Man arrested in mistaken identity case locked in Hawaii mental health hospital for two years

A homeless man wrongly arrested for a crime committed by someone else and locked up in a mental health hospital for nearly three years was quietly released, recent court documents in Hawaii show.

In a court petition filed on Monday night, the Hawaii Innocence Project asked a judge to rescind Joshua Spriestersbach’s arrest and correct his records. The court filings detail Spriestersbach’s plight, which started when he fell asleep on a sidewalk while waiting for food outside a Honolulu shelter in 2017.

When a police officer woke him up, Spriestersbach thought he was being arrested for the city’s ban on sitting or lying down on public sidewalks. In reality, the officer mistook him for a man named Thomas Castleberry, who had an outstanding warrant from a 2006 arrest for drug crimes.

According to the Hawaii Innocence Project, Spriestersbach and Castleberry had never met and Spriestersbach had never claimed to be Castleberry.

Spriestersbach’s lawyers argue that the mixup could have been avoided if police had simply compared the two men’s fingerprints and photographs. In plaas daarvan, Hawaii officials locked Spriestersbach in the Hawaii State Hospital for nearly three years and forced him to take psychiatric drugs. In Januarie 2020, officials realized their mistake and quietly released him, met 50 cents to his name.

“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 HSH staff and doctors and heavily medicated,” the petition gesê. “No one would believe him or take any meaningful steps to verify his identity and determine that Mr. Spriestersbach was telling the truth – he was not Mr Castleberry,” it added.

For two years and eight months, hospital staff and Spriestersbach’s own public defenders refused to believe him, until a hospital psychiatrist finally listened. According to the court document, all it took were a few Google searches and phone calls to confirm that he was on another island when Castleberry was initially arrested.

The real Castleberry has been incarcerated in an Alaska prison since 2016.

The Hawaii Innocence Project criticized the police, state public defender’s office, state attorney general and the state hospital, stating that all parties “share in the blame for this gross miscarriage of justice”.

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