Mistaken Identity Lands Man in Mental Hospital for 2 Years

Joshua Spriestersbach protested that he wasn't Thomas Castleberry, to no avail
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 4, 2021 10:25 AM CDT
The Wrong Man Was Locked in Mental Hospital for 32 Months
In this photo, Joshua Spriestersbach talks on a phone in March 2020 in Danby, Vt.   (Vedanta Griffith via AP)

Hawaii officials wrongly arrested a homeless man for a crime committed by someone else, locked him up in a state hospital for two years and eight months, 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, the Hawaii Innocence Project said in a court document asking a judge to set the record straight. A petition filed in court Monday night asks a judge to vacate the arrest and correct Joshua Spriestersbach's records. The filing lays out his bizarre plight:

  • It started with him falling asleep on a sidewalk. He was homeless and hungry while waiting in a long line for food outside a Honolulu shelter on a hot day in 2017. When a police officer roused him awake, he thought he was being arrested for the city's ban on sitting or lying down on public sidewalks.

  • The wrong Thomas. 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, and Spriestersbach never claimed to be Castleberry, according to the Hawaii Innocence Project.
  • His protests made it worse. "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 [Hawaii State Hospital] staff and doctors and heavily medicated," the petition said. No one believed him—not even his various public defenders—until a hospital psychiatrist finally listened.
  • Truth was easy to find. Spriestersbach's attorneys argue it all could have been cleared up if police simply compared the two men's photographs and fingerprints, which a detective did after the psychiatrist called police. The real Castleberry has been incarcerated in an Alaska prison since 2016.
  • 'Secret' release. The petition said a secret meeting was held in January 2020 "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." His lawyers said officials didn't think anyone would believe Spriestersbach or care about the homeless man.
  • Spriestersbach now. After his release, he ended up at a homeless shelter, which contacted his family. Spriestersbach now refuses to leave his sister's 10-acre property in Vermont. "He's so afraid that they're going to take him again," she says.
(More mistaken identity stories.)

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