MANATEE -- Three people associated with Goodwill Manasota have been charged with breaking into a storage unit belonging to a former employee while he was hiking the Appalachian Trail to raise awareness about a Goodwill program to aid military veterans, according to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.
Their goal, according to sheriff's office, was to ruin Christopher Davis' reputation and to get him fired from Goodwill.
Davis, who had romantic relationships with two women charged in the case, last month filed a lawsuit against the three suspects, alleging they engaged in "illegal, malicious and wrongful conduct" to ruin his reputation.
Surveillance video captured Yen L. Reed, Jessica Lynn Baldwin and Donald E. Hill on May 28 entering Davis' storage unit at a rental facility at 7750 Lockwood Ridge Road and removing an iPad, documents and other items belonging to Davis, according to a sheriff's office news release.
Reed, who no longer works at Goodwill, was identified as Davis' ex-girlfriend. She had a key to the storage unit, according to the sheriff's office. Baldwin was identified as his then-girlfriend, and Hill also worked with Davis, according to the report.
The sheriff's office said that on June 4, Goodwill officials notified Davis that he had been fired and the agency had stopped funding his hiking trip because of "inappropriate personal pictures and documents found on his work computer." A sheriff's report states that the items were not on his work computer, but on a personal computer when he left for his hiking trip.
In January 2013, Davis was hired to be the veterans' program manager for Goodwill Manasota's American Veterans and Their Families Initiative, designed to expand Goodwill Manasota's services to respond to challenges faced by veterans, their families and families of those on active duty.
The suspects, the sheriff's office said, "contacted numerous associates in the veterans' community and told them personal information about the victim from documents obtained from the victim's storage unit."
When Davis went to Goodwill to retrieve personal items, he found they included the iPad that had been taken from the storage unit.
Reed, 37, turned herself in at the Manatee County jail on Wednesday, and was released after posting a $5,000 bond. She faces a charge of grand theft. When reached via phone, she told a Herald reporter to speak with her criminal defense lawyer, Drew Solnoki, of the Sarasota-based Byrd Law Firm.
"There's a lot more to this story that ultimately will come out and we believe will exonerate our client," Solnoki said Friday.
Baldwin, 26, also surrendered at the jail Wednesday. Facing a charge of burglary, she was released after posting $1,500 bond.
Hill, 57, was arrested at his job site in Sarasota, and faces a charge of burglary. He was released from the Sarasota County jail after posting $1,500 bond.
Davis' lawsuit, filed July 16, outlines the same allegations mentioned in the sheriff's news release -- only in more detail. He claims Reed, Baldwin and Hill invaded his privacy by going into his storage unit and defamed him by giving others "knowingly false, libelous and slanderous information" and interfered with his ability to secure employment.
The lawsuit says that the surveillance footage taken at the storage unit shows that some combination of the three suspects entered the storage unit on May 30 and 31, and June 1 and 4.
The video shows Hill and Baldwin are "in a romantic relationship," and captures all three "ransacking, searching and removing personal articles of Mr. Davis's, as well as his private legal papers and other documents," including his iPad, the complaint states. Davis also alleges in the lawsuit that Reed and Baldwin were "infuriated" because they believed he was romantically involved with the two women at the same time.
In the lawsuit, Davis also denies he had inappropriate material on his work computer. The suit also states that Davis was told of his termination because of the material and "what is considered an unauthorized social relationship with a Goodwill client." The alleged client is Baldwin. The suit claims she was never a client.
Goodwill of Manasota Vice President Veronica Miller said Friday that Baldwin was a former client who was given help to get a job.
In his suit, Davis is seeking injunctive relief, as well as damages in excess of $15,000. After news broke of their arrests, a post was published on Goodwill Manasota's Facebook page describing the articles written about Goodwill as "completely inaccurate and irresponsible journalism and borders on slander."
"Reporting allegations as fact is completely incompetent. These people have been accused of things by a self-proclaimed unstable disgruntled former employee with an ax to grind," the anonymous post read. "Goodwill is not mentioned in his lawsuit and the people mentioned vehemently deny all charges against them."
The post was later deleted.
Miller said Friday that the Facebook post sounded like an earlier draft of a finalized statement.
"It's an unfortunate situation," she said of the case. "If anything, I want to clarify that this has nothing to do with Goodwill ... I don't want any message of what's happening to dilute the primary reason for us helping veterans get back to work."
Miller's written statement said that Davis was let go from his position "for conduct detrimental to Goodwill and the people we serve."
She said the exact reason was confidential, but that it has nothing to do with the allegations put forth in the lawsuit.
Amaris Castillo, Law Enforcement/Island Reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. You can follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.