PENSACOLA, Fla. (WKRG) — The Pensacola Humane Society has filed a lawsuit against six of its former department heads for defamation against the organization.

According to the 28-page complaint filed on Jan. 17, 2023, PHS claims the six defendants “intentionally and/or recklessly published defamatory information, clearly directed said information at PHS and/or the Board, and used PHS letterhead and domain names without PHS approval, resulting in significant financial injury and harm to PHS, its good will and reputation.”

When asked about the lawsuit, PHS Board attorney Michael Kelly told WKRG News 5 since it is an ongoing litigation, he was unable to comment.

The lawsuit names former Director of Development Manda Moore-Joseph, former bookkeeper Jessica Gehres, former Volunteer Coordinator Raina Townson, former Communications and Marketing Director Jessica Fischer, former Director of Animal Melissa Garret and former Director of Shelter Operations and Foster Coordinator Alysia Martinez.

One of the main issues in the complaint centers around a press release sent out Dec. 8, where the group called for the removal of board president Gerald Adcox. The group alleged Adcox misappropriated more than $90,000 of donor and grant money.

Though none of the defendants came forward and said they were the ones who wrote and sent out the release, the complaint states, “Upon information and belief, each Defendant created, assisted in, consented to, and/or helped distribute the Press Release, which asked for Board President Gerald Adcox to resign and outlined a plethora of false and defamatory statements against the Board.”

On Dec. 9, We The Organization received a cease-and-desist letter from Jennifer Shoaf Richardson, an attorney at Emmanuel Sheppard & Coddon. In the complaint, PHS said the defendants provided a “novel’s worth” of false and defamatory comments.

On Dec. 28, all the animals were removed to other shelters in Santa Rosa and Escambia Counties. Santa Rosa County spokesperson Sarah Whitfield confirmed they have taken responsibility for 70 cats total. The complaint said this was done without the Board’s authorization or knowledge. The complaint said at least one dog previously under PHS’s care was euthanized at Escambia County Animal Shelter.

The complaint reiterates neither PHS or the Board were engaged in any illegal, improper or unethical conduct, “as falsely asserted by Defendants.”

PHS said in the complaint they want the court to include compensatory damages, the Defendants to issue a public apology and publish a retraction of the “false statements,” enter an injunction to prevent Defendants from making defamatory statements about PHS and remove the “libelous” statements made to this point.

On Thursday, PHS announced Blake White, a member of the Board of Directors, has been selected to lead the organization in an “executive role.”

PHS said in a release that White brings a long career in the financial services industry to his new position.

“He possesses expertise in financial analysis, risk management and understanding of the business environment, including legal and human resource knowledge,” PHS said in the release. “With a management degree from Auburn University and as a graduate of Louisiana State University’s School of Banking, Blake has the skills needed to move PHS forward as a well-structured and efficient operation.”

White joined the PHS board in 2022 and the board said he “quickly realized that he was developing a passion for its mission, and that restructuring the 80-year-old organization was the perfect fit for his skills.”

The board said White will officially begin his tenure in mid-February as PHS brings a national expert in animal sheltering to assist him and the Board of Directors with “reshaping the vision of PHS and moving into a future of renewed commitment to Saving Lives 4 Paws at a Time.”

When asked about White and the future of PHS, Kelly told WKRG News 5 they are taking it one day at a time.

“I do think the proper steps are being taken to rectify the issues addressed in our complaint,” Kelly said. “Things are still in the works, so I don’t want to comment to much on it at this point. Things are still in flux, but in the next couple of weeks, we should have more information.”