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Man who was mistakenly locked up in state psychiatric hospital for 2 years files federal suit

Published: Nov. 22, 2021 at 5:23 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 22, 2021 at 5:42 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A man who spent more than two years in the Hawaii State Hospital because of mistaken identity ― despite repeatedly insisting that authorities had the wrong man ― has filed a federal lawsuit against multiple government agencies.

Joshua Spriestersbach’s attorneys claim Honolulu police officers, deputy public defenders, doctors at the psychiatric hospital in Kaneohe and the state Department of Public Safety violated his civil rights.

Other allegations in the complaint include false imprisonment, medical malpractice, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

They point to a series of alleged missteps that not only allowed Spriestersbach to get wrongfully arrested but then kept him confined ― despite evidence to support his mistaken identity claim.

Spriestersbach’s saga began in May 2017.

He was homeless at the time and fell asleep on the sidewalk outside a homeless center.

A Honolulu police officer arrested him and booked him for crimes committed by another man, Thomas Castleberry ― a convicted drug user, car thief, and burglar who was on probation and had an outstanding warrant.

Spriestersbach was fingerprinted and his mugshot was taken.

But it appears no one seemed to notice Spriestersbach’s prints and picture didn’t match Castleberry.

In September 2017, Spriestersbach was committed to the custody of the Hawaii State Hospital. He was deemed delusional ― in part because insisted that he was not Castleberry. And he was unnecessarily given powerful anti-psychotic medication, he alleges in the suit.

Court documents go on to say that in February 2018, State Hospital employees escorted Spriestersbach out of the hospital to Downtown Honolulu to get copies of his Social Security card and his Hawaii State ID. The documents showed that he was Joshua Spriestersbach, not Castleberry.

Joshua Spriestersbach spent more than two years in the Hawaii State Hospital because of...
Joshua Spriestersbach spent more than two years in the Hawaii State Hospital because of mistaken identity. He's filed a federal lawsuit against multiple government agencies.(Courtesy)

Despite that, he remained locked up under the wrong name.

It wasn’t until January 2020, two years and eight months after the arrest, that another doctor investigated and found he was telling the truth.

Spriestersbach was quickly released.

“They dropped him off at the houseless shelter, gave him back his 50 cents and acted like this never happened,” said Ken Lawson, of the Hawaii Civil Rights Project, the group that filed the lawsuit.

Lawson said if police, workers at the Oahu Community Correctional Center, the courts, the State Hospital, or his public defenders had done any research, they would have found that the real Thomas Castleberry actually left Hawaii in 2009.

Castleberry had multiple felony arrests in Arizona and, most recently, Alaska where he is still incarcerated, according to Lawson.

Spriestersbach on the other hand has never been jailed for a felony crime. His previous encounters with police were homeless-related: Sleeping in parks and on the sidewalk.

Lawson thinks a 2011 arrest may have been why police linked the two men.

Spriestersbach was sleeping in a school stairwell. He gave the responding officer his grandfather’s name, William Castleberry.

He never gave the first name of Thomas, but Lawson believes the officer found a Castleberry in the system and connected the two men.

Lawson pointed out that the warrant for Thomas Castleberry has his name printed, but then underneath, someone wrote in Spriestersbach’s name.

Lawson called that odd and wonders if someone from the Honolulu Police Department or the jail added it after the warrant was approved as a way to cover up the wrongful arrest.

Arrest warrant for Thomas Castleberry with hand written alias Joshua Spriestersbach
Arrest warrant for Thomas Castleberry with hand written alias Joshua Spriestersbach(None)

HPD Interim Chief Rade Vanic issued a statement about the lawsuit:

“The HPD is currently reviewing department policies and procedures to determine if changes are needed. We are also continuing to work with city attorneys to fully investigate and address the allegations in the lawsuit.”

Lawson said there were many agencies that could have done more to listen to Spriestersbach during the ordeal.

“Just a lack of caring, if you are houseless and you struggle with mental health issues there’s just a lack of caring,” Lawson said.

Spriestersbach moved to Vermont to live with his sister after he was freed. Vedanta Griffith told Hawaii News Now that he does not leave her property unless he has to because he still fears being arrested again.

The court records have still not been corrected despite his release so he could be mistaken for Castleberry again.

Other agencies named in the lawsuit: Department of the Attorney General, the Hawaii Department of Health, the Hawaii Department Public Safety.

They had not been served the lawsuit, but declined comment because the litigation is pending.

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