When he was locked up, doctors pumped him up with strong drugs, judges ruled him as unfit to stand trial, and his attorneys ignored his pleas that they had the wrong man.
A homeless man named Joshua Spriestersbach fell asleep on the sidewalk outside a Honolulu restaurant in 2017 "due to heat and exhaustion." He woke up to find a local police officer arresting him and thought he was being arrested for violating the city's ban on sitting and lying down on public sidewalks. Immediately, Spriestersbach told the cop his name, date of birth, and social security number, even though he didn't have any identification on him, per PEOPLE.
But the cops arrested him not because he'd violated the city laws, but because they believed Spriestersbach was a man named Thomas Castleberry, who had an arrest warrant out for allegedly violating probation in a drug case from 2006, according to The Washington Post.
On August 2, 2021, the Hawaii Innocence Project filed a petition in court to vacate his arrests, because a case of mistaken identity caused the innocent man to spend more than two years in a psychiatric hospital by officials who declared him "delusional," according to the petition.
When he was locked up, doctors pumped him up with strong drugs, judges ruled him as unfit to stand trial, and his attorneys ignored his pleas that they had the wrong man. Police, doctors, judges, public defenders, and prosecutors all “failed Spriestersbach — and their failure to do their jobs cost Mr. Spriestersbach almost three years of his life — incarcerated for a crime he never committed by a person … he never knew,” Innocence Project lawyer Jennifer Brown said in the petition.
"We help out those individuals who've been wrongfully incarcerated and who were actually innocent," Kenneth Lawson, the legal nonprofit's co-director, said. "And he's actually innocent and was wrongfully incarcerated. This needs to be fixed because no one was helping."
“Every aspect of our justice system played a role in this miscarriage of justice,” Lawson added.
When he was taken to jail, he was fingerprinted and photographed, but despite that, officers allegedly failed to compare the data to that of the real Castleberry and booked the innocent man for the crimes of another. According to the petition, Spriestersbach only found out a month after his arrest that he was taken into custody as Castleberry.
So, when Spriestersbach went to court for the first time in June 2017, he told the judge there his real name, adding that he wasn't even in the area where the crimes happened in 2006 because he was at a mental health clinic, undergoing treatment. Instead of investigating, the public defender requested that a three-judge panel evaluate Spriestersbach’s mental state.
Joshua Spriestersbach, a homeless man in Hawaii, was arrested by a cop who mistook him for another man.— chris evans (@chris_notcapn) August 5, 2021
He tried telling them he was the wrong man and they declared him delusional
He was institutionalized for almost three years before they realized they’d made a mistake. pic.twitter.com/5erjeKym70
He was later transferred to the Hawaii state hospital, where he was forced to attend group sessions for illegal drug users, despite having no record of drug abuse, and when he fought back, was "given doses of anti-psychotic medications, including Haldol, which caused him to become despondent and catatonic," the petition claims. “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 [hospital] staff and doctors and heavily medicated."
This continued to happen on repeat, until finally, on January 2, 2020, he repeated the same thing, and someone finally listened. A detective verified fingerprints and photographs and it was determined that the real Castleberry had been in prison in Alaska since 2016.
On January 17 the same year, he was released from the hospital, after two years and eight months, "when it was determined that he had been telling the truth the entire time," the petition says. It also mentions that he could have been released earlier only if his documents had been cross-referenced.
Police arrested a man thinking he was someone else. For 2 years, he was held against his will at the Hawaii State Hospital, deemed insane and forcibly injected with drugs.— Hawaii News Now (@HawaiiNewsNow) August 5, 2021
The courts still have no record of this mishap in an apparent attempt to cover it up. @lynnkawano reports pic.twitter.com/bZAwVcYTLk
"He's doing a lot better now, but that trauma that comes with being locked up and especially against your will and be forced to take medications and not have anybody listen to you... it's that fear," Lawson says.
Spriestersbach is now living with his sister, Vedanta Griffith, in Vermont, though she told the Associated Press that her brother refuses to leave the property for fear that "they're going to take him again."
Cover Image Source (Representative): Getty Images | LightFieldStudios