Shake Shack

VANILLA FUDGE?: A crime-scene investigator gathered evidence on the June evening last year when three NYPD officers believed they had sipped from poisoned drinks they had ordered from a Shake Shack location. The restaurant’s manager was detained, arrested and questioned in connection with the officers’ claims, which drew widespread attention, including from police unions. Investigators quickly determined no foul play was involved. The manager is now suing.

The three NYPD cops are identified according to the flavored drink they ordered that night: Officers Strawberry Shake, Vanilla Shake and Cherry Shake. Two others are referred to by what they said or did: “NYPD Sergeant who stated When Did You Add The Bleach” and “NYPD Sergeant Who called in ESU.” 

All five are so named in a Federal lawsuit filed last week by a former manager of a downtown Shake Shack who was accused by the NYPD and police unions of deliberately poisoning a to-go order by the three officers during the height of anti-police protests a year ago.

‘Intentional’ Poisoning 

Marcus Gilliam, who was managing the restaurant chain’s Fulton Transit Center location on June 15 last year, says that police violated his constitutional rights when they first detained and then arrested him without probable cause.

It was determined within hours that no criminality was involved and the officers had suffered no lasting ill-effects, or, according to the suit, even felt sick. But by then the damage had already been done, the suit says: The Detectives’ Endowment Association in a tweet that evening accused Shake Shack employees of “intentionally” poisoning the officers. And the Police Benevolent Association, also that evening, sent a statement to its members saying several officers had consumed contaminated beverages. 

“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,” the PBA's tweeted statement said. 

The suit, which also names the PBA and the DEA; PBA President Patrick Lynch; a number of “John Doe” officers who detained and arrested him; and the city, says Mr. Gilliam “was falsely arrested and suffered emotional and psychological damages and damage to his reputation.”

The DEA did not respond to a request for comment made through a spokesman, and the PBA declined to address the matter.

‘Put My Cops in Hospital’

According to the suit, the three officers, who were assigned to the 42nd Precinct in The Bronx, were deployed downtown to help police protests that happened that evening. They had ordered the shakes from a mobile app and picked them up several minutes later. 

“After sipping the shakes, Defendants Officers Strawberry Shake, Vanilla Shake and Cherry Shake complained that their shakes did not taste right, so they threw the drinks in the trash,” the suit says. The three then informed Mr. Gilliam that there was “something wrong” with the drinks. 

Mr. Gilliam apologized to the officers, and offered them vouchers for food and drinks, which they took. The three nevertheless reported to their Sergeant that the manager had put a “toxic substance,” possibly bleach, into their milkshakes. 

But the suit argues that neither Mr. Gilliam nor other employees could not have known that a police officer  had made the order since it was done using an app, and that the order was already packaged when the cops arrived. 

Nevertheless, the Sergeant ordered personnel from the NYPD's Emergency Services Unit to the scene to begin an investigation. Mr. Gilliam and other employees were then detained. 

The manager allowed officers to search the restaurant, to question employees, and to review security-camera footage, the suit says. Still, at least one officer appeared to believe that the shakes had been deliberately doctored. The suit states that when Mr. Gilliam was showing officers how the shakes were made, one Sergeant asked, “When did you add the bleach?”

After viewing security-camera footage purportedly showing that the shakes had not been spiked, the same Sergeant told the manager, “You put three of my cops in the hospital.” The officers had been taken to Bellevue Hospital, but were released that same evening “without ever showing symptoms,” according to the suit. 

NYPD: No Criminality

Mr. Gilliam was nevertheless taken to the First Precinct, where he was questioned for more than an hour and detained for at least five hours, the suit says. 

The NYPD’s Chief of Detectives, Rodney Harrison, the next day said in a tweet that following “a thorough investigation...it has been determined that there was no criminality by shake shack’s employees..”

The DEA walked back its accusations in a statement posted to its website June 16 and thanked the restaurant for its “full and timely cooperation with this investigation.” It added that “Initially, it was reported what whatever toxic substance made the Officers ill was intentionally placed in their drinks.” The statement did not say how it was determined that bleach was added to officers’ drinks. 

Mr. Gilliam claims that the arrest, the police action and the union’s accusations caused him anguish, anxiety and humiliation, and damaged his reputation, among other afflictions. He is seeking compensatory and punitive damages by way of a jury trial.

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