HONOLULU (NEXSTAR) — The Hawaii Innocence Project says officials wrongfully arrested a homeless man for a crime committed by another person, locked him up in a state hospital for more than two years, forced him to take powerful medication and then tried to cover up the mistake by quietly setting him free.
Attorneys representing Joshua Spriestersbach say he somehow got confused for a man named Thomas Castleberry.
In 2017, Spriestersbach fell asleep while waiting in a food line outside a Honolulu shelter on a hot day.
A police officer woke Spriestersbach up and arrested him. Spriestersbach assumed it was for laying on the sidewalk, which was banned in Honolulu. What he didn't know was that the officer had mistaken him for another man, Thomas Castleberry, the Associated Press reports.
Castleberry was wanted over allegedly violating probation on a drug case.
The Innocence Project says Spriestersbach never said he was Castleberry, whom he had never met, and it's unclear how the mix-up happened.
In a petition asking the judge to set the record straight, the Hawaii Innocence Project says no one believed Spriestersbach, not even his public defenders.
The office of the public defender did not immediately return Nexstar's request for comment.
The petition blames the public defender's office, the police, the hospital and Hawaii's attorney general for their alleged roles in the "gross miscarriage of justice" that resulted in Spriestersbach's arrest and misidentification.
The petition also describes what happened to Spriestersbach after he was finally committed to the Hawaii State Hospital:
"Yet, 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 H.S.H. staff and doctors and heavily medicated," the petition said. "It was understandable that Mr. Spriestersbach was in an agitated state when he was being wrongfully incarcerated for Mr. Castleberry's crime and despite his continual denial of being Mr. Castleberry and providing all of his relevant identification and places where he was located during Mr. Castleberry's court appearances, no one would believe him or take any meaningful steps to verify his identity and determine that what Mr. Spriestersbach was telling the truth – he was not Mr. Castleberry."
Spriestersbach finally found one person who believed him enough to look into his claims of mistaken identity – a psychiatrist at the hospital. The document states that several phone calls and Google searches revealed that Castleberry and Spriestersbach were on two different islands when police initially arrested Castleberry.
The psychiatrist called police and a detective confirmed the error using fingerprints and photographs, according to the petition. Had officers contacted Alaska authorities, they would have found that the real Castleberry had been incarcerated there since 2016.
After Spriestersbach was released he went to a local homeless shelter which called his sister, Vedanta Griffith, in Vermont. Spriestersbach has since moved to her 10-acre property, which he now refuses to leave, Griffith told the Associated Press.
"He's so afraid that they're going to take him again," she said.