Mistaken Identity Sends Man to be Locked Up in Hawaii Mental Hospital for Two Years

Hawaii officials wrongfully arrested a homeless man for a crime committed by another, locked him up in a state hospital for more than two years, coerced him into taking psychiatric drugs, and then attempted to cover up the error by quietly releasing him with only 50 cents to his name, the Hawaii Innocence Project claimed in a court document pleading.

A petition filed in court Monday night seeks a judge to vacate Joshua Spriestersbach’s arrest and correct his records. The complaint details his unusual ordeal, which began when he fell asleep on a sidewalk. He was homeless and hungry on a scorching day in 2017 while waiting in line for meals outside a Honolulu shelter.

When a police officer woke him, he believed he was being detained for violating the city’s prohibition on sitting or lying down on public walkways. However, he was unaware that the police had mistaken him for a man called Thomas Castleberry, who was wanted for breaking probation in a 2006 narcotics case.

Spriestersbach acquired the alias Castleberry even though he never claimed to be Castleberry, according to the Hawaii Innocence Project.

According to Spriestersbach’s counsel, the matter might have been resolved easily by comparing the two men’s pictures and fingerprints. Rather, he was committed in the Hawaii State Hospital, despite Spriestersbach’s claims that he was not Castleberry.

“Yet, the more Mr. Spriestersbach vocalized his innocence by asserting that he is not Mr. Castleberry, the more he was declared delusional and psychotic by the H.S.H. staff and doctors and heavily medicated,” the petition said.

Nobody believed him until a hospital psychiatrist finally listened.

According to the court record, it took only a few Google searches and phone calls to establish that Spriestersbach was on another island at the time Castleberry was detained.

The psychiatrist summoned a detective, who verified fingerprints and photographs to determine that the wrong man had been arrested and Spriestersbach had been institutionalized for two years and eight months, noting that it was not difficult to determine that the real Castleberry has been imprisoned in an Alaska prison since 2016.

Spriestersbach, 50, who now resides in Vermont with his sister, declined to comment for this article.

Vedanta Griffith, his sister, spent nearly 16 years looking for him. Following his release, he wound up at a homeless shelter, where his family was contacted. Spriestersbach has since refused to leave his sister’s property.

“He’s so afraid that they’re going to take him again,” Griffith said.