Case of mistaken identity keeps man locked up at Hawaii State Hospital for 2 years

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Published: Aug. 3, 2021 at 6:04 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 3, 2021 at 10:27 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An Oahu man was arrested, forced to remain at the Hawaii State Hospital for more than two years and forcibly injected with drugs ― all by mistake, newly-filed court documents reveal in a case that the Hawaii Innocence Project says the state is now trying to cover up.

It all started because Joshua Spriestersbach, 50, was wrongly identified by a Honolulu police officer in 2017, according to a petition filed Monday by the Hawaii Innocence Project on his behalf.

That’s despite the fact that the two don’t look alike.

And even though the man police were actually looking for was already locked up in another state.

Joshua Spriestersbach after his release from the state hospital
Joshua Spriestersbach after his release from the state hospital(Vedanta Griffith)

Spriestersbach was homeless in 2017, and fell asleep outside Safe Haven in Chinatown.

A police officer apparently believed he was Thomas Castleberry and arrested him. Castleberry, 49, had an outstanding probation warrant stemming from a 2006 arrest for drug crimes.

It appears no one bothered to compare the pictures or fingerprints of the two men when Spriestersbach was booked because he ended up in the Oahu Community Correctional Center.

Thomas R. Castleberry after an arrest in Arizona
Thomas R. Castleberry after an arrest in Arizona(Arizona DOC)

“The real Thomas Castleberry had been arrested in 2006. He had been booked in OCCC in 2006. He had been fingerprinted by the police in 2006. He’d been photographed by the police in 2006,” said Ken Lawson, of the Hawaii Innocence Project.

“They had the real Thomas Castleberry’s identification fingerprints and photograph online.”

The petition the agency filed is to get the court to acknowledge the mistake and change the records so that the two men cannot be associated with each other again.

Lawson said the state is instead trying to cover up their wrongdoing.

Spriestersbach is now free and living with his sister in Vermont, Vedanta Griffith.

But he doesn’t leave the property, fearing he’ll be stopped by law enforcement and jailed again, according to Griffith.

His family had been looking for him for years.

Griffith said they had called hospitals and jails all over the state, not realizing he was being held under a different name.

“Every time they called him Thomas Castleberry, he’d say my name is Joshua Spriestersbach,” Griffith said. “They would use that against him, saying he’s delusional.”

He spent two years and eight months in the State Hospital, a forensic psychiatric facility.

A judge’s order allowed the state to forcibly inject him with drugs, especially when he refused to go to drug rehabilitation treatment that Castleberry was supposed to be a part of.

“Anytime he refused to comply with a requirement that Thomas Castleberry had, he was injected with an anti psychotic drug,” Griffith said.

It wasn’t until January 2020 that people started believing him and the court, after a closed hearing in the judge’s chambers, ordered his release.

He was given just 50 cents and sent on his way.

Spriestersbach was able to get to Safe Haven, where he called his mother.

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