Hawaii officials mistakenly arrested a homeless man for a crime committed by someone else, locked him in a state hospital for more than two years, forced him to take psychiatric drugs, and then tried to cover up the mistake by keeping him quietly with only 50 cents released in his name, the Hawaii Innocence Project said in a court document asking a judge to rectify the matter.
In a petition filed with the court on Monday evening, a judge is asked to lift the arrest and correct Joshua Spriestersbach’s records. The file sets out his bizarre plight, which began with him falling asleep on a sidewalk. He was homeless and hungry while waiting for food in a long line outside a Honolulu animal shelter on a hot day in 2017.
When a police officer woke him up, he thought he had been arrested because of the city’s no-sit and lie-down restrictions.
But what he didn’t know was that the officer mistook him for a man named Thomas Castleberry, who was being issued a parole warrant in a 2006 drug case.
It is unclear how this happened since Sprestersbach and Castleberry never met. Spriestersbach somehow ended up using Castleberry as his alias, though Spriestersbach never claimed to be Castleberry, according to the Hawaii Innocence Project.
Spriestersbach’s lawyers argue that everything could have been cleared up if the police had simply compared the photos and fingerprints of the two men.
Instead, he was finally admitted to the Hawaii State Hospital against Sprestersbach’s protests that he was not Castleberry.
“The more Mr. Spriestersbach protested his innocence by claiming to be not Mr. Castleberry, the more he was declared delusional and psychotic by the HSH staff and doctors and he was heavily medicated,” the petition says. “It was understandable that Mr Sprestersbach was in a state of excitement when he was wrongly imprisoned for the crime of Mr Castleberry, and although he continually denied being Mr Castleberry and all of his relevant IDs and places where he is during Mr. Castleberry’s court appearance, no one would believe him or take any reasonable step to verify his identity and establish that what Mr. Sprestersbach was saying was the truth – he was not Mr. Castleberry. “
Nobody believed him – not even his various public defenders – until a hospital psychiatrist finally listened.
All it took was a simple Google search and a couple of phone calls to check if Sprestersbach was on another island when Castleberry was first arrested, the court document said.
The psychiatrist asked a detective to come to the hospital to check fingerprints and photos to determine the wrong man had been arrested and has been detained in an Alaska prison since 2016.
According to records, a 49-year-old man named Thomas R. Castleberry is in the Spring Creek Correctional Facility in Seward, Alaska. His relatives could not be reached for comment. The Alaska public defender listed for him declined to comment today.
The Hawaii Innocence Project document also claims that Spriestersbach had an ineffective attorney: the Hawaiian Public Defender’s Office.
The police, the public prosecutor’s office, the public prosecutor’s office and the hospital are “partly responsible for this gross miscarriage of justice,” says the petition.
Hawaii’s public defender James Tabe and special assistant to the attorney general’s Gary Yamashiroya declined to comment today.
As soon as the fingerprints and photos were completed, officials moved quickly but clandestinely to release Sprestersbach in January 2020, the petition says.
“A secret meeting was held with all parties except Mr Sprestersbach, who was present. There is no court record about this session or no public court record about this session. No entry or order reflects this miscarriage of justice or a statement that Mr Sprestersbach is not Thomas Castleberry, ”the court document reads.
His lawyers believe the officers didn’t believe anyone would believe Sprestersbach or that no one would care about the homeless person who fell asleep while waiting for food only to wake up with a living nightmare.
Spriestersbach, 50, who lives in Vermont with his sister, declined to comment on the story.
His sister, Vedanta Griffith, spent nearly 16 years looking for him. He moved to Hawaii with Griffith when her husband was stationed with the Army on Oahu in 2003. He moved to the Big Island and then disappeared while suffering from mental health problems, she said.
“Part of what they used against him was his own argument: ‘I’m not Thomas Castleberry. I did not commit these crimes. … It’s not me, “she told the Associated Press. “So they used that to say he was delusional, as a justification for keeping him.”
After his release, he ended up in a homeless shelter, which his family contacted.
“Then what do you do when light is shown on it? You don’t even write it down in the minutes. You’re not making it part of the case, ”Griffith said. “And then they don’t come to him and say, ‘We’re so sorry,’ or, how about, ‘Man, it wasn’t you. You were right all along. ‘”
Spriestersbach now refuses to leave his sister’s 10 hectare property.
“He’s so scared they’ll take him back,” Griffith said.
The AP journalist Mark Thiessen in Anchorage contributed to this report.