CLEARFIELD, Utah (AP) — A Utah man who was cleared Tuesday after being arrested two months earlier on accusations he a drugged a police officer’s drink said he’s relieved but disappointed in how police handled his case and that they refuse to apologize for sullying his reputation.
Speaking for the first time since the allegations — and his police mug shot — became a top national story in early August, Tanis Ukena said at a news conference that he has hardly left his northern Utah home because he feared for his safety after receiving online death threats and hateful comments.
The 18-year-old recent high school graduate had to put his Mormon mission plans on hold as he became a target after investigators said publicly they were exploring whether Ukena’s motive had something to do with growing animosity and distrust of police around the country in the wake of a number of officer-involved shootings.
But the case was closed Tuesday after state lab results couldn’t confirm that the officer’s drink had methamphetamine and THC, findings from initial field tests that led police to arrest Tanis Ukena, Layton Police Lt. Travis Lyman said Tuesday. Blood and urine tests also revealed the officer didn’t have any drugs in his system, Lyman said. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the main psychoactive component in marijuana.
Police thanked the Ukena family for their patience during the investigation but stopped short of recognizing wrongdoing or apologizing.
“It would be nice even just for them to come out and say, ‘Hey we made a mistake, we’re sorry,’” Tanis Ukena said. “It’s disappointing to see them clamp up really and try and hide their mistake.”
His mother, Heather Ukena, called the experience a “living nightmare” with the low point being when her son made an online list of the country’s “top thugs.” She and her husband, Landy Ukena, said they never doubted the innocence of their son, a top student and Eagle Scout who never had been in trouble.
The family and their attorney, Randy Richards, are strongly considering a lawsuit against the police department in Layton, a city near a large Air Force base north of Salt Lake City.
Landy Ukena said police need to understand that they have a responsibility to residents to admit when they make mistakes.
“I’d like to see all police departments be more cautious, more thorough,” he said.
Ukena denied putting anything in the drink the day he was arrested on suspicion of surreptitiously giving a poisonous substance, a felony. Police said surveillance footage from inside the Subway showed he was the only one to handle the drink.
The officer, whose name was not released, reported feeling impaired immediately after getting the drink that day in the northern Utah city. He struggled to find the brake pedal of his patrol car at a red light and couldn’t answer questions at the police station.
Lyman said it’s a mystery why the officer felt impaired that day. They don’t suspect the officer took drugs, is a drug addict or tried to frame Ukena, Lyman said. He is still employed with the department.
Subway spokesman Shawn Cook said in a statement they are pleased Layton Police cleared Ukena. Ukena said the company was firmly behind him the whole time and has already followed through on a promise to let him come back to work if he was cleared of wrongdoing.
For now, Ukena is focused on preparing to leave in November on a two-year Mormon mission to Utica, New York. But, he worries about what he’ll have to face when he comes back to study mechanical engineering and begins looking for jobs. He knows that most employers will do research and uncover online stories about this serious allegation.
“For the rest of my life, anytime I want to get a job or a school application, anything like that where somebody is going to be Googling my name, this is going to come up,” Tanis Ukena said. “Hopefully, also stories will come up that I was proven innocent.”