Subway Owner Says Police Ruined Her Business By Falsely Claiming Officer’s Drink Was Spiked With Meth

The owner of a Subway franchisee is accusing her local police department of destroying her business and reputation by knowingly making false accusations through the local news that an employee of the restaurant spiked and officer’s drink with methamphetamine.

This all began almost exactly a year ago in Layton City, UT, when a Layton Police Department officer pulled into the drive-thru at a local Subway eatery to order a sandwich and a lemonade.

The officer said that he immediately suspected something was wrong with his drink and that he began to feel ill. He took the lemonade back to the station and ran a preliminary drug screen on the beverage. Police said at the time that the lemonade tested positive for both methamphetamine and THC, the active chemical in marijuana.

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Later that night, the incident was on the local news, with a headline claiming the officer had been “hospitalized,” and police saying that surveillance video showed an employee possibly putting something in the drink, and that this employee had subsequently been arrested on suspicion of a second-degree felony.

The news story even included an unpleasant mug shot of the 18-year-old, and in her voice-over for the story that aired live, the reporter declared that the officer had been hit with a “double dose of illegal narcotics.”

For this story, which aired only hours after the officer purchased his meal, a public information officer for the Layton Police spoke to the reporter while standing outside of the Subway and making some damning remarks. He called the situation “terrifying” for police, said without qualification that the lemonade had tested positive for the two drugs, and that “we can obviously assume that it was because he was a police officer in a marked vehicle, but we don’t know for sure.”

This news had a devastating effect on the Subway shop, says the owner. More than a half-dozen employees, including a manager, quit in the aftermath of the arrest. A number of them had also been subjected to questioning by the police. Customers stopped coming, and the local school ceased ordering sandwiches from the store.

But weeks went by and no official charges were brought against the teen who’d been arrested. It wasn’t until more than two months after the original incident that police confirmed that there was no meth or THC in the lemonade and there was no evidence that the employee had done anything to the officer’s drink.

The damage was done by this point, says the Subway franchisee, who last week filed a lawsuit [PDF] in federal court against the Layton Police Department, alleging that officers knew there was no actual evidence of a spiked drink but decided to go public with their unsubstantiated claims.

According to the lawsuit, police knew that two urine tests — taken at the hospital two and five hours before local news story aired — had turned up no evidence of any drugs in the officer’s system.

What’s more, the plaintiffs say that searches of the Subway, the employee, and his car found nothing to support the allegation that the drink had been spiked or that the worker had been in contact with drugs of any sort. Police even brought in drug-sniffing dogs to no avail, notes the lawsuit. And all of this occurred hours before police gave the interview that aired later that evening.

And while the online version of the local news story mentions that the initial positive test of the lemonade was an “ion scanner” test, the lawsuit claims that police made no effort to clarify that the test used on the drink is intended only for preliminary screening and that it frequently provides false-positive results.

None of this was told to the reporter who put together that story, notes the lawsuit, and police made no effort to provide these exculpatory facts to the reporter despite having ample time before the piece aired. In fact, police had an additional hour that evening because Olympics coverage pushed back the usual start time for the nightly news show.

The day after this news broke, the Subway owner says she spoke to a Layton PD detective who revealed that the urine tests had come up negative, that he didn’t see anything suspicious on the surveillance footage, and that the teen would likely not be charged.

Police subsequently found no evidence to support the notion that the officer’s drink had been spiked, but the plaintiffs say the city did nothing to quell the growing interest in the case from both local and national media.

The accused employee, who’d been released on bail, says he was the subject of vitriol and threatening comments from people — including law enforcement groups — who believed he’d tried to poison a police officer. Others called for a boycott of the Subway location. But still the police did nothing to quell this outrage even though they knew it was increasingly likely that the teen had been falsely accused.

On Oct. 11, Layton Police finally announced that no charges would be filed because all tests had come back negative. At the time, the department refused to apologize to the teen or to even publicly state that it had made a mistake.

That employee, who eventually went back to work at Subway, sued the city of Layton and recently settled out of court for $50,000.

In the franchisee’s lawsuit, the owner claims that she lost nearly $300,000 between flagging sales, spoiled food, having to hire and train new employees, and stigmatization of being associated with illegal drugs.

An attorney representing the franchisee explains to the Washington Post that this lawsuit isn’t about the police making a mistake; it’s about the police allegedly knowing they’d made a mistake but turning it into a media event anyway.

“I’m not saying they should be sued for a faulty investigation,” says attorney Robert Sykes. “But part of the investigation doesn’t involve a press conference.”

The complaint claims that Layton PD’s public information officer — who is called out as a named defendant in the lawsuit — pitched this poisoning story to the local TV reporter as a “scoop,” then allowed the false information to fester, resulting in hundreds of millions of social media hits, according to the plaintiffs.

“They kept omitting key facts, leaving the false impression this officer had been poisoned,” says Sykes.