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Shake Shack manager sues NYPD unions, city over ‘poisoned’ milkshake incident

The Shake Shack at Fulton Center in Manhattan.
Photo via Twitter/@ShakeShack

The manager of a Downtown Manhattan Shake Shack where three NYPD officers falsely claimed they were poisoned by milkshakes last summer has sued two police unions, the cops involved, and the city.

Marcus Gilliam, who runs the fast food joint at Fulton Transit Center in Lower Manhattan, filed a suit on June 14 alleging the police falsely arrested and detained him and that two unions defamed him, according to court documents.

In addition to the three cops and the city, Gilliam’s suit targets Pat Lynch, the head of the Police Benevolent Association, along with the Detectives’ Endowment Association, who posted on social media at the time claiming that someone had intentionally poisoned the officers with the drinks on June 15, 2020.

NYPD sent in the Emergency Service Unit and detained Gilliam for five-six hours and interrogated him for more than an hour at a nearby precinct station house, even though the cops never got sick, the court filings show.

Amid the racial justice uprisings in New York City following the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, three Bronx cops stationed in Lower Manhattan on protest duty went to grab the milkshakes at around 7:30 p.m. on the night in question.

After taking a sip of their drinks, the cops complained that they didn’t taste right and threw the beverages in the trash. When they told Gilliam, he apologized and gave them each vouchers for free food and milkshakes, which they accepted.

The officers then told their sergeant that someone had put “toxic substance,” possibly bleach, in their drinks, and the higher-level cop called in the ESU to set up a crime scene.

Some 20 police showed up at the fast food joint around 9:20 p.m. and arrested the manager along with detaining all of his employees.

He denied their allegations but cooperated with the authorities — at one point even giving them a demonstration of how they prepare milkshakes. At that point, one sergeant allegedly asked Gilliam, “When did you add the bleach?” adding, “You put three of my cops in the hospital.”

The three officers were taken to Bellevue Hospital and examined, but released without any symptoms.

Cops took him to the 1st Precinct in Tribeca, where detectives put him in an interrogation room and drilled him for one-two hours, allegedly taunting about contaminating the shakes.

The cops ordered the shakes through a mobile app and the drinks were already packaged and ready for pickup by the time the officers arrived, so the Shake Shack staff couldn’t have known that the beverages were for police, according to the suit. 

Meanwhile, an NYPD lieutenant allegedly emailed the PBA and DEA, telling the unions that cops had started vomiting after drinking the beverages and both unions swiftly released statements accusing someone of deliberately poisoning the shakes.

“Tonight, three of our fellow officers were intentionally poisoned by one or more workers at the Shake Shack at 200 Broadway in Manhattan. Fortunately, they were not seriously harmed. Please see the safety alert,” read a tweet by the DEA, which represents about 5,500 active detectives.

The PBA — the largest union in the NYPD representing some 24,000 of the city’s 36,000-strong force — also released a statement on Twitter:

“When New York City 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. We cannot afford to let our guard down for even a moment,” the statement read.

Both statements were viewed thousands of times and Twitter users wrote hateful messages against the eatery’s staff and manager, according to the suit.

At 4 a.m. the next morning, then-NYPD Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison sent out a tweet admitting that there was no criminality by the Shake Shack employees, but that didn’t stop people from contacting Gilliam and accusing him of trying to attack police, according to the lawsuit.

“As a result the actions of Defendants LYNCH, PBA and DEA, Plaintiff suffered loss of liberty; was falsely arrested; lost wages; incurred expenses, including legal fees; loss of reputation and standing in his community; and suffered humiliation, pain and suffering, terror, and mental anguish, all of which is ongoing,” reads the court filing.

He filed a suit charging cops of violating his Constitutional rights by arresting him without a warrant, probable cause, or having exigent circumstances, and accused Lynch, the PBA, and the DEA of publishing defamatory and false statements about him.

Neither police union responded to a request for comment.

City Law Department spokesman Nick Paolucci said the agency will review the suit, but did not comment further.

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