Fault Lines
29 June 2017

Loss of Innocence – Guilty Until Proven Innocent

October 13, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Guilty by association. We wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t done something wrong. Hang around a police station or criminal courthouse for any length of time and you will hear it all. No one really thinks people are innocent anymore. The question becomes just how far we are willing to go before we change the culture: arrest now, prove it later.

You may remember the case of Tanis Ukena, the teen working at Subway in Utah who was arrested after a police officer claimed the teen drugged the officer by placing illegal drugs in his soda:

Authorities say the teen was working the drive-thru of Subway in nearby Layton when an unidentified law enforcement officer in uniform dropped by earlier that afternoon and ordered a lemonade. After reviewing surveillance camera footage and conducting tests on the drink, investigators determined that the employee deliberately drugged the cop — a second-degree felony.

“In the video, (Ukena) is seen filling the drink portion of the order at the drive-up fountain area,” according to a Davis County Jail report acquired by KSL-TV. “For some unknown reason, he walks away from the fountain machine out of camera view. He then returns to the drink where he is seen spending what seems to be an unusual amount of time getting it ready to deliver to the sergeant.”

The officer in question claimed he took a few sips of his drink and realized it tasted funny. So much so, that the officer claimed he felt the effect of being drugged and had to be hospitalized. He claimed he had difficulty driving and was observed to be impaired. The teenager, a recent high school graduate, was arrested and charged with a second-degree felony after analysis (a field test) indicated the officer’s lemonade contained traces of both methamphetamine and THC, the high-inducing chemical found in marijuana.

Now, after two months, Ukena has been cleared. That’s right. Despite the faulty field test results, despite the arrest, despite the accusation, the state laboratory charged with chemical analysis has failed to find traces of either methamphetamine or THC in the drink. Further, blood and urine tests reveal the officer did not have any drugs in his system. Why the officer felt and appeared impaired or drugged is still a mystery. Perhaps had he not jumped to the conclusion that he had been drugged, he could have sought medical treatment which might have revealed his imbalance. Yes, he went to the hospital, but he went there complaining of being drugged. It’s unlikely that doctors sought out alternative explanations for his symptoms.

But what about Ukena? No, he hadn’t done anything wrong. Yet he was arrested. He had to postpone his two-year mission trip due to the arrest. He had to deal with a belief that he was somehow targeting police as citizens across the country were arguing about black lives vs. blue lives. He undoubtedly was deprived of his liberty, strip searched, and placed in a cell. Photographed and fingerprinted, his mug shot drew national attention. He lived a nightmare as he made an online list of “top thugs” in the country. He received death threats; Ukena rarely left his home. Now, he wonders if he will have to defend himself for the rest of his life any time a potential employer Googles his name.

Oops. The officer made a mistake. He had not been drugged. There were no drugs in his system. The police department made a mistake. There were no drugs in the soda.

Police thanked the Ukena family for their patience during the investigation but stopped short of recognizing wrongdoing or apologizing.

Thank you for your patience. But, not sorry for the inconvenience. Not sorry for the arrest. Not sorry for jumping to conclusions. Not sorry for the faulty field test. Not sorry for the ordeal that Ukena went through. Just move on, as if it never happened.

Move just a little north of Utah and consider Erin Peters in Idaho. She too had done nothing wrong. Yet, she was humiliated, detained, and questioned after she was mistaken for a 18-year-old who was wanted for killing her baby. Peters, a 35-year-old breast cancer patient, had shaved her head following chemotherapy. Apparently, the 18 year-old also shaved her head. That was enough. A shaved head.

Peters was arrested and handcuffed as she shopped in Wal-Mart. Peters had to prove she was not Whitley Evenson. Apparently her identification claiming she was a 35-year-old Erin Peters wasn’t good enough. Her claim of being a cancer patient who just left radiation wasn’t credible. She asked police to call the cancer center to confirm her treatment. Instead, police went through her purse, her phone, and her Facebook account looking for any information that might reveal her true identity as a criminal.

FBI spokesman Richard Collodi said he regrets that Peters was inconvenienced but the task force had to be sure. He said suspects often come up with creative excuses to avoid arrest.

Peters was questioned for 45 minutes. Sure, that’s not very long. But how long does it take to check identification? And so what if they scoured through her phone texts, contacts, emails, and Facebook account. Sure, she was inconvenienced, but it’s for the greater good, right? If she hadn’t done anything wrong, she should be happy to share her life with the police. It couldn’t possibly be that humiliating to be dragged out of your local Wal-Mart in handcuffs and questioned.

A little inconvenience to someone else isn’t really that bad. Someone else’s arrest couldn’t possibly be that traumatic. It’s all part of living in a police state free society. We’re all willing to give up 45 minutes of our day explaining to the police who we are. We’re all willing to spend a few days in jail to make sure an officer wasn’t drugged. Oh wait, you’re not?

Ukena wasn’t presumed innocent. Peters wasn’t presumed innocent. They were both cleared, one much faster than the other, but neither will get back that innocence. Neither will be given back that time. Neither will be absolved of that trauma and humiliation. They will just have to move on and accept that it happened. An apology likely wouldn’t change much, but it would at least be a start. A start to changing the culture of guilty until proven innocent.

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  • Fault Lines Friday Fail
    21 October 2016 at 12:00 pm - Reply

    […] justice system, as brought to you by Fault Lines Contributors. Last week’s “winners” were Tanis Ukena and Erin Peters for being an “inconvenience” to cops. Check out this week’s top 5 fails and pick your […]