The manager of a New York City Shake Shack restaurant said he was unlawfully detained by police and "taunted" after he was falsely accused last year of poisoning three officers' milkshakes.
The manager, Marcus Gilliam, is now suing members of the New York Police Department, the City of New York, as well as the unions that represent police and detectives. Gilliam's lawsuit is seeking damages for alleged defamation and deprivation.
Gilliam says in the suit that the June 15, 2020 incident damaged his reputation and caused him to "suffer emotional and psychological damages." It's not clear if Gilliam is still employed with Shake Shack, and the company could not immediately be reached Tuesday.
The three officers, one of whom is identified as Richard Roe, had been on protest detail following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor when they stopped at a Lower Manhattan Shake Shack to pick up strawberry, vanilla and cherry shakes.
The suit, filed Monday, states that the officers placed the order via a mobile application and that the drinks were packaged and waiting for them prior to their arrival.
"Since the orders were placed using a mobile application, and not in person, Mr. Gilliam and the other Shake Shack employees could not have known that police officers had placed the order," the lawsuit says.
After sipping the shakes, the officers said they did not taste right, threw them in the trash and told Gilliam. Gilliam immediately apologized and offered the officers vouchers for free food and milkshakes, which they accepted.
According to the lawsuit, the officers later told their sergeant that Gilliam had put a "toxic substance" believed to be bleach in their shakes. The sergeant arrived at the store and declared it a crime scene and Gilliam and his coworkers were unlawfully detained, the suit states.
At one point, Gilliam was instructed to show police how they make the milkshakes and as he did so, a sergeant asked him, "When did you add the bleach?" He was then told that the three officers were in the hospital.
The NYPD said back in June that the officers were examined at the hospital and released. The lawsuit says that the officers never showed any symptoms of being sickened by the shakes.
Gilliam was taken to the police station where he was questioned for more than an hour, according to the suit.
"Throughout the interrogation, the detectives taunted plaintiff about putting bleach in the milkshakes," it says.
After about three hours at the station, Gilliam was taken back to the restaurant.
The suit says that police tested the officers' discarded shakes "and found no evidence of any bleach or other toxic substances." Security footage from the restaurant also showed that no one had tampered with the drinks, the lawsuit says.
Despite this, an NYPD lieutenant emailed the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) and the Detectives' Endowment Association (DEA) and said that the officers had gotten sick from the milkshakes.
The detectives union tweeted out that the three officers had been "intentionally poisoned" by workers at a Lower Manhattan Shake Shack. The police union president, Patrick Lynch, tweeted that a toxic substance, possibly bleach, had been put in the drinks. Several news outlets picked up the inaccurate claims and published stories online.
A day after the incident, the police cleared the Shake Shack workers but the publicly false accusations led to people coming to the eatery and taunting Gilliam, the suit says.
"Defendants Lynch, PBA and DEA were grossly irresponsible in disseminating the tweets, since there was no evidence whatsoever that plaintiff or his employees had poisoned" the officers, it states.
The suit accuses the officers and Lynch of defaming Gilliam, who is seeking unspecified damages.
The PBA did not immediately return a request for comment on Tuesday. The DEA and NYPD referred comments to their attorneys, who have not responded. Roe could not be reached at the phone numbers listed for him.