Owners of a Subway shop in Utah sue for defamation in what police once said was a soda drugging case

Layton police said the employee planted drugs in an officer’s drink, but no evidence was found.

Courtesy | Layton Police Department Layton police designated a space outside its police station for people to safely conduct business or exchange custody.

The owners of a Layton Subway shop are suing the city for defamation after their employee was wrongly accused of drugging a police officer’s lemonade last year.

Franchise owners Dallas Buttars and Kristin Myers say in the lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court that sales dropped off precipitously after police publicized the Aug. 8, 2016, drink-spiking assertion. They also say several employees of the the shop quit after being questioned by police. 

Layton and police Sgt. Clint Bobrowski are named as defendants.

“This is an unusual case, in that it deals with constitutional defamation or slander by a public agency, a police department in this case,” Robert Sykes, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in an email. ”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.”

A Subway restaurant is shown Tuesday, July 7, 2015, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Layton officers had accused an 18-year-old working the drive-thru window at 1142 E. State Route 193 of lacing a sergeant’s lemonade with methamphetamine and THC, the psychoactive element in marijuana. 

Police officials at the time said that after the officer had become sick, a special drug-scanning ”ion test” later conducted on the drink showed the presence of the drugs. The lawsuit says the test has a ”known high false positive rate.” Indeed, state crime lab results later showed that there was nothing illicit in the lemonade.

In addition, the lawsuit states, the restaurant owners allowed police that day to search the building, take samples of liquids, watch surveillance video and bring drug-sniffing dogs onto the premises.

“There’s no evidence that he did anything — nothing, zero,” Sykes said of the restaurant employee in a Wednesday news conference at his Salt Lake City office.

The employee — later arrested but never charged — is not a party in the suit and is on a Mormon mission. Sykes said the teenager was not included because his interests in the case had previously been ”resolved.”

Later on Aug. 8, 2016, according to the lawsuit, Bobrowski told a news reporter about the alleged drink-spiking.

Bobrowski ”offered KSL a scoop on this ‘poisoning story’ before it 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 complaint states. 

The information given to the news organization was “false and defamatory,” and implied that Layton investigators had “seen and confirmed” that the Subway employee had spiked the drink, when they had not, the lawsuit alleges.

The story was reported extensively locally and was picked up by several national and international outlets, the lawsuit says. The owners say the fiasco caused their business to lose tens of thousands of dollars in sales, new employee training and general financial losses due to “drug stigmatization.”

The owners joined Sykes at his office Wednesday. Buttars said the business continues to lose business related to the occurrence, and his reputation as a Layton resident was tarnished. Myers, who lives in Ogden, said people would make comments about being poisoned in line, and some avoided the shop altogether. 

“I don‘t think Layton City still understands the gravity of what they’ve done here,” Sykes said.

Buttars and Myers are requesting an apology from the city and Bobrowski, and a monetary damage amount to be determined at a trial.

Bobrowski did not return a message seeking comment. Another Layton police spokesman, Lt. Travis Lyman, said the department could not comment on the pending litigation. The Layton city attorney, Gary Crane, said Wednesday that he was reviewing the case. 

Upon notifying city officials that he was considering filing the complaint, Sykes said, a Layton city attorney emailed him back with a proposal. According to Sykes, the attorney offered for the Subway to be hired to cater some of their city events, including a Christmas party.

“They honestly said that,” Sykes said. ”[The attorney] 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.”