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Lawsuit

NYC PBA Sued for Inflammatory Comments

A Shake Shack employee is suing the union after they falsely tweeted that he poisoned three officers

Kris LaGrange's picture
Jun 15, 2021

One year ago, on June 15th, 2020, at the height of the protests around the murder of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, controversy erupted in New York City. The Police Benevolent Association (PBA) and the Detectives Endowment Association (DEA) were tweeting that officers were being intentionally poisoned by Shake Shack and PBA President Patrick Lynch rushed to the hospital to get the standard picture with the victimized officers in front of the TV cameras. The only catch, there was no evidence that a crime had taken place.

The incident started when three officers were reassigned from their post in the Bronx to protest duty in Manhattan. Looking for a refreshing shake, the officers ordered three milkshakes online and picked them up at the burger chain’s Fulton Transit Center location. When the officers arrived the shakes were already made and waiting to be picked up. Soon after sipping the shakes, the officers felt that they tasted off and contacted the location which apologized and gave them vouchers for free food and drink.

Yet after the officers threw away the shakes, they notified their sergeant claiming that the manager of Shake Shack, Marcus Gilliam, had put a toxic substance in their drink. They allegedly told their sergeant that it could have been bleach. The supervisor then called the Emergency Services Unit which set up a crime scene around the restaurant and at least 20 cops descended on the scene. Gilliam and his employees were questioned, and Gilliam was arrested and detained for six hours while detectives questioned him reportedly accusing him of putting bleach in the drinks.

Meanwhile as investigators were testing the drinks and finding no foreign substances in them, 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 NY Post’s reporting. By 10:45 PM the DEA was tweeting that Finest had become “ill” after being “intentionally poisoned by one or more workers at the Shake Shack” and 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.”

“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. We cannot afford to let our guard down for even a moment,” the Police Benevolent Association wrote on its Twitter feed.

The DEA’s tweet was shared over 11,000 times and included the location of the restaurant, while the PBA’s tweet was shared almost 2,000 times. The story was also reported on around the country.

Now Gilliam has filed a defamation lawsuit against the PBA and DEA accusing them of staining his reputation by falsely accusing him of dosing the shakes of three cops with bleach. Gilliam doesn’t know the officers’ names, so his lawsuit gave them colorful monikers — “Officer Strawberry Shake,” “Officer Vanilla Shake” “Officer Cherry Shake,” “NYPD Sergeant who stated When Did You Add the Bleach” and “NYPD Sergeant Who called in ESU.”

“People came into the store for weeks afterward, and they made comments about this incident,” his lawyers Elliot Shields said. “My client ran into one of the cops weeks later, and he was terrified. “They treated him like he was a cop killer, basically,” his lawyer, Elliot Shields, told the Daily News Monday night. “They just jumped to this conclusion with no evidence. They tried to fit this episode into this false narrative of the police being under attack, and it was outrageous.”

The lawsuit alleges that Gilliam “suffered emotional and psychological damage and damage to his reputation. It also says that he is bringing a civil rights action “for compensatory and punitive damages to redress the deprivation, under color of state law, of rights secured to him under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth amendments” and that he is seeking damages for defamation and deprivation of his rights under New York State Law.

The lawsuit alleges that when the unions received the email from the Bronx lieutenant, they already knew that it was false since the officers were showing no symptoms. The lawsuit says that the union was grossly negligent and irresponsible in sending out the tweets since there was no evidence that a crime took place or that the officers were sick.

Ultimately around 4 AM, Chief Rodney Harrison tweeted that there was no criminality on the part of Shake Shack, which the lawsuit says constitutes an admission of guilt that the police wrongfully arrested Gilliam and that they say this proves that there was no probable cause for the arrest.

Gilliam says in the lawsuit that in the days and weeks to follow he was constantly being asked about the incident, asked if he poisoned the officers, and was asked questions that tied back to the tweets sent out by the PBA and DEA. He also says that numerous people entered the restaurant to taunt him about the incident.

A further investigation into the incident, which included watching surveillance video of the employees making the shakes, found that the substance that made the shakes taste weird was likely leftover residue from a cleaning solution that did not wash off properly after the last cleaning of the milkshake machine. A worker at the restaurant told the Daily News that bleach is never used to clean the food equipment and that is only used to clean the floors. Since the shakes were ordered online and were already prepared once the officers got there it was unlikely that the workers even knew who they were making the food for.

Gilliam is suing for monetary damages of an unspecified amount and attorney fees.

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