Subway Files Defamation Lawsuit Following Officer’s False Claim
Almost like a scene out of a movie, Sgt. Clint Bobrowski accused Subway sandwich shop worker Tanis Ukena, 18, of spiking his lemonade with methamphetamine and THC before handing it out the drive-thru window in August 2016. He then proceeded to claim he had been poisoned in an interview. He claimed he had gotten sick after ingesting the beverage.
Ukena was taken into custody after an ion test incorrectly supported the officer’s claims. However, lab results later showed the lemonade wasn’t laced after all. Turns out, ion tests have a high incidence of returning false positives. Ukena was soon released. Three days later, the department issued a public statement indicating the beverage had been safe to drink.
But, the damage had already been done. The sandwich shop’s reputation went down the tubes following the false claim. Many employees quit after being questioned about the incident, and the owners were forced to hire and train new team members. Sales decreased. “This has been one of the worst years,” owner Kristin Myers said. “I’m in the store every day, and I had several days were customers were coming in to give us the riot act. We also had people asking, ‘Can you put that special stuff in my sandwich.’”
To compensate, the franchise owners, Kristin along with Dallas Buttars, filed a defamation claim in a U.S. District Court. According to their claim, the police department offered the information before anyone “had definitively tested the drink” and “before it knew whether any crime had been committed and before it knew whether anyone had in fact been poisoned.” The information given in the initial interview was “false and defamatory,” and implied that investigators had “seen and confirmed” Ukena had spiked the lemonade.
Robert Sykes, the franchise owners’ attorney, said the city offered to hire their restaurant for catering after hearing that they were considering a lawsuit. “I don‘t think Layton City still understands the gravity of what they’ve done here,” he said, adding, “This is an unusual case, in that it deals with constitutional defamation or slander by a public agency, a police department in this case. A police public information officer for Layton City did an interview claiming that one of its officers had been poisoned at the Subway when the city knew or should have known that it did not happen.”
It’s an unfortunate scenario overall, according to Sykes. “[The attorney for the City] said, ‘It’ll be a win-win.’ Well, it’s not a win-win. It’s hard to get your reputation back once it’s been stolen from you.” Winning the lawsuit won’t guarantee sales will be up to par or the comments will cease. Only time will tell.
Ukena, the ex-Subway employee now serving in a Mormon mission, also filed suit and ended up settling for $50,000. “There’s no evidence that [Ukena] did anything — nothing, zero,” Sykes said, saying it’s a shame that a kid would be blamed for such a serious crime. Ukena is not named as a party in the pending lawsuit.