New York, NY – The manager of the Shake Shack that was accused of having poisoned police officers’ shakes last June filed a federal defamation suit on Monday against the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the police unions who made the public accusations.
The lawsuit filed by Marcus Gilliam on June 14 alleged the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) and the Detectives’ Endowment Association (DEA) had hurt his reputation with false accusations of putting bleach into three officers’ drinks, the New York Post reported.
Gilliam’s 19-page complaint said that even after NYPD officials knew that no poisoning had occurred, they wrongfully arrested him and took him to the station house where they interrogated him for more than two hours.
The lawsuit said the Shake Shack manager suffered “economic injuries, violation of his civil rights, emotional distress, anguish, anxiety, fear, humiliation, loss of freedom, economic damages, legal expenses, and damages to his reputation and standing within his community” as a result of the false poisoning allegations, the New York Post reported.
He is seeking unspecified damages and attorneys’ fees.
The story quickly spread after unions tweeted statements late on June 15, 2020 that claimed three NYPD officers assigned to the protest detail downtown had been sickened by something they ingested from a fast food restaurant.
“This evening, several [police officers] assigned to a protest detail in lower Manhattan took meal at the Shake Shack location on Broadway and Fulton Street,” the NYPD Police Benevolent Association (PBA) President Pat Lynch said.
“At some point during their meal period, the [police officers] discovered that a toxic substance, believed to be bleach, had been placed in their beverages,” the statement said.
“The contamination was not discovered until the MOS [Members of Service] had already ingested a portion of their beverages,” Lynch added.
New York City Detectives Endowment Association Presidents Paul DiGiacomo released a statement saying that three officers were poisoned.
Just a few hours later, NYPD Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison made the announcement that it had all been a mistake.
“After a thorough investigation by the NYPD’s Manhattan South investigators, it has been determined that there was no criminality by Shake Shack’s employees,” Chief Harrison tweeted just after 4 a.m. June 16.
Police sources told WPIX that that the investigation had determined that the shake machine had been improperly cleaned and a residue of a cleaning agent or bleach was still inside it when the shakes were made for the officers.
The New York Post reported there was no way for Shake Shack employees preparing the drinks to know the recipients were police officers “since it wasn’t done in person,” nor was there any way for them to add contaminants to the milkshakes after the officers arrived because the beverages were already packed up on the counter.
Sources said the officers tried their drinks, tasted and smelled something off, and tossed them in the trash.
The officers alerted a manager who apologized for the problem, and then accepted vouchers for free food or drink to make up for their inconvenience, the New York Post reported.
It was all over with until the officers told their sergeant what had happened about two hours after the incident occurred.
The sergeant took the matter much more seriously, sources told the New York Post, and called in an Emergency Services Unit (ESU) at 9:20 p.m. to investigate at Shake Shack.
The sergeant had the three officers transported to Bellevue Hospital to be examined.
None of the three officers ever showed symptoms of being ill from ingesting the milkshakes, sources told the New York Post.
However, a lieutenant notified the unions of the ongoing incident in an email that sources said exaggerated the situation.
The lieutenant told the union that six officers had “started throwing up after drinking beverages they got from shake shack on 200 Broadway,” the New York Post reported.
Meanwhile, according to the lawsuit, 20 officers had descended on the Shake Shack, questioned all of the employees, and arrested Gilliam.
The complaint said that Gilliam was released at about 1:30 a.m. on June 16 because the preliminary investigation had determined the drinks had probably been contaminated by a cleaning solution in the shake machine, the New York Post reported.
However, NYPD didn’t publicly share the fact they had found “no criminality” in the incident until about 4 a.m., and in the meantime, social media about the incident had snowballed.
The lawsuit alleged that Chief Harrison’s tweet amounted to an “admission that Plaintiff was falsely arrested and defamed,” the New York Post reported.
Afterwards for weeks, Gilliam was harassed online and in the restaurant by people who demanded to know if he had intentionally poisoned the NYPD officers, according to the complaint.
A former co-worker said that Gilliam no longer works at that Shake Shack, the New York Post reported.
NYPD referred questions about the lawsuit to the city’s Law Department, which said it was still reviewing the complaint.