‘Outrageous’: Red Hill suit plaintiffs accuse government of destroying cell phone evidence

The plaintiffs filed a motion Tuesday claiming that the Navy destroyed evidence.
Published: Sep. 19, 2023 at 5:28 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 19, 2023 at 6:29 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Plaintiffs in a Red Hill lawsuit want sanctions against the government after they claim the Navy destroyed cell messages of two key leaders who responded to the tainted water crisis.

The plaintiffs filed a motion Tuesday claiming that the Navy destroyed evidence.

But in federal court, the motion taken up Tuesday was about the government wanting to block a doctor’s testimony.

Army Maj. Amanda Feindt brought her 5-year-old daughter to watch the Red Hill court hearing after she claims they’ve battled health problems since drinking the Navy’s fuel-tainted tap water.

“My family in general started experiencing neurological, gastrointestinal and skin issues,” she said.

On the Monday after Thanksgiving 2021, Capt. Erik Spitzer — then base commander of Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam — emailed military residents. “I can tell you at this point that there are no immediate indications that the water is not safe,” he wrote, in that email.

Special Section: Navy Water Crisis

In court documents, the government admitted the cell messages are gone.

“On or around June 14, 2022, Capt. Spitzer’s government-provided cell phone was wiped as part of the change in command,” said trial attorney Eric Rey.

Kristina Baehr, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said Navy leaders knew the water was contaminated.

“They told people the water is safe and that was Captain Spitzer and now we don’t have his cell phone records,” Baehr said.

Capt. James “Gordie” Meyer was the commander of Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command. The government says around spring 2022, his government cell phone was wiped as part of a hard software reset.

“Due to the phone being wiped, the Navy has been unable to recover Capt. Meyer’s information prior to the reset,” said Rey, in court documents.

“However, as part of the Navy’s investigation into Red Hill prior to the reset, Capt. Meyer collected key text messages related to Red Hill. We will be producing those to you.”

Baehr, the attorney said, officials “knew they had an obligation to tell people it wasn’t safe.”

“The government wiped these cell phones after this litigation was already on file. It’s outrageous ... the destruction of evidence,” she added.

Court documents do show a text of “a fire suppression water line leak at Red Hill.”

Capt. Albert Hornyak, who was fired from being in charge of the Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility, texted this message: “Holding on DOH notifications under a clearer picture of situation.”

Later that night, he texted photos of the spill.

The judge will issue a ruling at a later date for it’s motion to block a doctor’s testimony. As for trial, it’s set for next March.