The manager of the Lower Manhattan Shake Shack at the center of last summer’s milkshake “poisoning” scandal has filed a federal defamation lawsuit against the NYPD unions.
In a complaint filed Monday, Marcus Gilliam accuses the Police Benevolent Association and Detectives’ Endowment Association of staining his reputation by falsely accusing him of dosing the shakes of three cops with bleach in June 2020.
Gilliam also claims he was arrested without cause and detained for up to six hours, during which time he was questioned by detectives who taunted him “about putting bleach in the milkshakes” — despite them knowing he’d done no such thing.
“No reasonable police officer would have believed that there was probable cause to arrest Plaintiff for any crime,” states the filing in the Southern District of New York.
The 19-page complaint echoes much of The Post’s previous reporting on the controversy, including how the three officers involved never even got sick, and how gung-ho brass forged on with an investigation, though there was no whiff of criminality from the get-go.
The saga began on June 15, 2020, when the three cops from The Bronx were sent to protest duty in Lower Manhattan amid the demonstration sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis a month earlier.
The cops — identified only as “Officer Strawberry Shake,” “Officer Vanilla Shake” and “Officer Cherry Shake” in the suit — ordered the mid-shift treats via a mobile app around 7:30 p.m. Their drinks were waiting for them when they arrived at the Fulton Transit Center fast food joint a few minutes later.
Soon after sipping the shakes, however, the cops realized they didn’t taste or smell right, so they threw the drinks in the trash and alerted Gilliam, who apologized and issued them vouchers for free food or drink, which they accepted, according to the suit and the Post’s reporting.
Since the orders were placed online, the workers couldn’t have known the customers were cops, and they also couldn’t have “dosed” the drinks after the officers arrived, because they were packaged and waiting for pickup.
Still, according to the lawsuit, the cops falsely informed their sergeant that Gilliam had put a “toxic substance,” possibly bleach, in their drinks.
The supervisor called in the Emergency Service Unit to set up a crime scene at the restaurant for evidence, and the unit arrived nearly two hours after the cops first got the “sour” shakes.
At least 20 cops descended on the Shake Shack to question Gilliam and his co-workers, who complied with the investigation, the filing says.
During one of the interviews, an officer — identified in the suit as “Police Sergeant When Did You Add the Bleach” — allegedly said to Gilliam, “when did you add the bleach?”
“You put three of my cops in the hospital,” the officer allegedly added, though the cops involved were checked-out at Bellevue Hospital and found to be fine.
Investigators tested the discarded drinks and “found no evidence of any bleach or other ‘toxic’ substances.” They also reviewed surveillance footage and concluded the shakes were made normally, according to the court document.
Nevertheless, a lieutenant from the Bronx blasted out an e-mail to the unions that cops “started throwing up after drinking beverages they got from shake shack on 200 Broadway,” according to the suit and the Post’s reporting.
By 10:45 p.m., the DEA was tweeting that Finest had become “ill” after being “intentionally poisoned by one or more workers at the Shake Shack” — as PBA president Pat Lynch made a show of visiting Bellevue while his union declared at 10:47 p.m. that police officers came “under attack” from a “toxic substance, believed to be bleach.”
The missives were liked by thousands and shared widely on social media, with some taking aim at Gilliam in the comments, according to his lawsuit.
Lynch, the PBA and the DEA “were grossly irresponsible in disseminating the tweets, since there was no evidence whatsoever that Plaintiff or his employees had poisoned (the officers) and because they never even got sick,” the court doc states.
As a result of the bogus accusations, Gilliam was falsely arrested and detained by cops at the 1st Precinct until around 1:30 a.m. on June 16, 2020, the lawsuit alleges.
Finally, at 4 a.m. that day, Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison announced on Twitter that there was “no criminality.”
The complaint claims that Harrison’s tweet “constitutes and admission that Plaintiff was falsely arrested and defamed.”
In the aftermath, Gilliam was hounded online and in-person at the restaurant by people demanding to know if he’d intentionally poisoned cops, the suit states.
Gilliam “was caused to suffer 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,” the filing says.
He is asking for unspecified damages.
Neither the unions nor the NYPD immediately returned requests for comment Monday night.
Additional reporting by Ben Feuerherd