Marcus Gilliam, the manager of a downtown location of Shake Shack, has filed a defamation lawsuit against the city, two police unions, and the police officers who falsely claimed their milkshakes were poisoned last summer. In reality, as the New York Daily News reported at the time, the odd taste was likely the result of the machines not being thoroughly cleaned. The incident occurred during the height of the George Floyd protests, when calls were being made to “defund the police” and officers faced new scrutiny. “It was against this backdrop that the milkshake incident exploded,” the New York Times wrote last June. Gilliam’s lawyer Elliot Shields tells the Daily News that his client was treated “like he was a cop killer,” and that the police “tried to fit this episode into this false narrative of the police being under attack.”
Gilliam says the cops complained to him that the shakes tasted strange, and he responded by apologizing and offering them vouchers for free food and milkshakes, which they accepted. However, according to the lawsuit, the officers then told an NYPD sergeant that Gilliam had poisoned their shakes with a “toxic substance.” Later that night, the store was declared a crime scene, and a sergeant called in the Emergency Services Unit, which arrived at 9:30 p.m. They found zero evidence that the shakes were tampered with, and security footage confirmed this.
There was no way an employee could have targeted the cops, according to both Gilliam’s lawsuit and a law-enforcement official who spoke with the Times last year, because they had ordered them via a mobile app. The shakes were packed up and ready to go when the officers arrived. Even after a hospital found no signs that the officers were poisoned, police transported Gilliam in a cop car, interrogated him for two hours, and taunted him. He was reportedly not released until 1:30 a.m.
The false claims were amplified after a detective reached out to the Detectives Endowment Association and the Police Benevolent Association, falsely claiming, according to the Daily News, that the officers were throwing up. The unions tweeted the claims, which were taken at face value and further spread through news stories. The PBA’s president, Patrick Lynch, released a statement as well, in which he wrote, “When NYC police officers cannot even take meal without coming under attack, it is clear that the environment in which we work has deteriorated to a critical level.”
According to Shields, people made comments at Gilliam’s store for weeks, and when Gilliam ran into one of the cops later, “he was terrified.” Gilliam — who is no longer working at the store, according to employees who spoke with the Daily News — is demanding monetary damages as well as attorney’s fees.