Hawaii authorities wrongly arrested a homeless man for a crime committed by someone else, locked him up in a state mental hospital for more than two years, forced him to take psychiatric drugs and then tried to cover up the mistake by quietly setting him free with just 50 cents to his name after realizing their mistake, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports citing court documents filed by the Hawaii Innocence Project.
According to the news outlet, “a petition filed in court Monday night asks a judge to set the record straight by vacating the arrest and correct Joshua Spriestersbach’s records. The filing lays out his bizarre plight that started with him falling asleep on a sidewalk. He was houseless and hungry while waiting in a long line for food outside a Honolulu shelter on a hot day in 2017.”
From the report:
“When a police officer roused him awake, he thought he was being arrested for the city’s ban on sitting or laying down on public sidewalks. But what he didn’t realize was that the officer mistook him for a man named Thomas Castleberry, who had a warrant out for his arrest for violating probation in a 2006 drug case.”
It’s unclear how this happened as Spriestersbach and Castleberry had never met. Spriestersbach somehow ended up with Castleberry as his alias, even though Spriestersbach never claimed to be Castleberry, according to the Hawaii Innocence Project.
According to records, a 49-year-old man named Thomas R. Castleberry is in the Spring Creek Correctional Facility in Seward, Alaska.
Spriestersbach’s attorneys argue it all could have been cleared up if police simply compared the two men’s photographs and fingerprints.
Instead, against Spriestersbach’s protests that he wasn’t Castleberry, he was eventually committed to the Hawaii State Hospital.
“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. It was understandable that Mr. Spriestersbach was in an agitated state when he was being wrongfully incarcerated for Mr. Castleberry’s crime and despite his continual denial of being Mr. Castleberry and providing all of his relevant identification and places where he was located during Mr. Castleberry’s court appearances, no one would believe him or take any meaningful steps to verify his identity and determine that what Mr. Spriestersbach was telling the truth — he was not Mr. Castleberry,” the petition says.
No one believed him — not even his various public defenders — until a hospital psychiatrist finally listened.
All it took were simple Google searches and a few phone calls to verify that Spriestersbach was on another island when Castleberry was initially arrested, according to the court document.
The psychiatrist asked a detective to come to the hospital, who verified fingerprints and photographs to determine the wrong man had been arrested and Spriestersbach spent two years and eight months institutionalized, the petition said, noting that it wasn’t hard to determine the real Castleberry has been incarcerated in an Alaska prison since 2016.
Police, the state public defender’s office, the state attorney general and the hospital “share in the blame for this gross miscarriage of justice,” the petition said.
Once the fingerprints and photographs were finalized, officials moved quickly, but secretly, to release Spriestersbach in January 2020, according to court documents.
“A secret meeting was held with all of the parties, except Mr. Spriestersbach, present. There is no court record of this meeting or no public court record of this meeting. No entry or order reflects this miscarriage of justice that occurred or a finding that Mr. Spriestersbach is not Thomas Castleberry,” the court document said.
His lawyers think officials didn’t think anyone would believe Spriestersbach or no one would care about the homeless man who fell asleep waiting for food, only to wake up to a living nightmare.
Spriestersbach, 50, who now lives with his sister Vedanta Griffith in Vermont, refuses to go outside because “he’s afraid that they’re going to take him again,” Griffith said.