A  former Maui County water treatment operator has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the county, claiming he was fired last July after alerting the Department of Health to an instance of water contamination at a treatment facility.

In a suit filed on Feb. 5 in the Second Circuit Court, Ashley Hooks, 40, alleged that the County of Maui and the Department of Water Supply unlawfully terminated his employment in retaliation for his reporting of the contamination and “violated the public policy to ensure transparency in government.”

Hooks wrote an email in June 2020 to Jennifer Nikaido at the Safe Drinking Water Branch at the Department of Health, noting that a cleaning solution had spilled into the water supply on May 16, according to the complaint.

In early July, Nikaido responded to the email, noting that the SDWB had investigated and “determined that an uncertain amount of citric acid entered the Clearwell and caused a turbidity spike at the Kamole Water Treatment Facility,” the complaint states.

Ashley Hooks is suing the County of Maui and the Department of Water Supply. His job with the water department was terminated in July. Maui County

Soon after, the County of Maui’s Department of Water Supply issued a statement acknowledging that “elevated levels of turbidity were caused by a small amount of filter cleaning solution inadvertently entering the system.”

The lawsuit alleges that Hooks’ employment was terminated in July.

Helene Kau, deputy director at Maui County’s Department of Water Supply, said that she is not aware of the lawsuit and that her agency has not yet been served.

Brian Perry, the communications director for Mayor Michael Victorino’s office, wrote in an email that the county does not comment on pending litigation.

When asked to comment, Hooks’ former supervisor Marvin Ignacio said, “He chose to do what he wanted. I just said I don’t trust him. He didn’t do his job.” Ignacio then hung up and did not respond to subsequent phone calls.

Nikaido left the DOH in September after 13 years there and declined to comment for this story.

Hooks said that by the time Maui County’s Department of Water Supply issued a notice to consumers, the contaminant had already gone through the system.

“People just consumed this water without knowing what was in it,” Hooks’ attorney Andrew Stewart added.

Stewart hopes that the county will give Hooks his job back and compensate him for the time he wasn’t working.

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