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Three New York City Police officers falsely accused the staff of a Manhattan Shake Shack of giving them poisoned milkshakes with little to no proof, and the manager of the store ended up getting arrested and interrogated for more than an hour.
Now, nearly a year to the day since the department determined that burger joint had no intention of harming the officers, the store’s former manager has filed a federal defamation lawsuit against the city, the officers involved, and the police unions that helped perpetuate the baseless claim before it was disproven.
All three officers involved were examined and released from the hospital with no symptoms at the time of the incident, and the police investigation into the Shake Shack location found no evidence that employees tampered with the food that was served to the officers.
“There was no evidence whatsoever that Plaintiff or his employees had poisoned Defendant Officers Strawberry Shake, Vanilla Shake and Cherry Shake [...] because they never got sick,” the lawsuit says.
On June 15, 2020, during the height of the country’s reckoning against police brutality following the murder of George Floyd, three NYPD officers—named Officers Strawberry Shake, Vanilla Shake, and Cherry Shake in the lawsuit—were on protest duty when they decided to buy a round of milkshakes. The officers ordered the items using a mobile app, according to the lawsuit, and picked up their food minutes later. After realizing the shakes had a distinct, bleach taste, they threw out the shakes and headed back to the Shake Shack where Marcus Gilliam, 28, was the manager.
After apologizing and providing vouchers for free meals at Shake Shake, the lawsuit says Gilliam cooperated with the department’s investigation into what happened.
Despite his cooperation, however, the officers allegedly told their sergeant that Gilliam added a “toxic substance” to their drinks, even though the order was placed through a mobile app. That means the store employees couldn’t have known that members of the NYPD would be coming to pick up the shakes.
That didn’t stop the officers’ unnamed sergeant from ordering police to set up a crime scene at the location. Gilliam allowed police to search the entire store for evidence of the poisoning, including the personal belongings of employees. Police even checked surveillance footage, interviewed employees, and even showed them how milkshakes were made.
Gilliam was eventually arrested and interrogated by two NYPD detectives according to the lawsuit. The detectives would interrogate him for more than an hour, and detain him for a total of three hours. He was eventually released at 1:30 a.m., just hours before NYPD police chief Rodney Harrision would tweet about the investigation.
In the end, the rancid taste of the shakes were the result of an uncleaned milkshake machine, a police source told New York Daily News last summer.
Total cooperation did Gilliam and his employees no good: an NYPD Lieutenant emailed the Police Benevolent Association and the Detectives Endowment Association with false details that the bad shakes caused the officers to throw up. Both unions tweeted about the false claims as if they were true.
“When NYC police officers cannot even take meal without coming under attack, it is clear that environment in which we work has deteriorated to a critical level," a tweet by the PBA’s Pat Lynch said. “We cannot afford to let our guard down for even a moment.”
The lawsuit called the two unions and Pat Lynch “grossly irresponsible” for pushing out the tweet, which received thousands of likes and shares on social media. Gilliam is seeking an unspecified amount in compensatory damages in relation to the incident, as well as payment of his legal fees.
When reached by VICE News, the Police Benevolent Association did not immediately provide comment. The Detectives Endowment Association declined to comment on the lawsuit when reached.