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After spending more than two years in a psychiatric facility against his will in a case of mistaken identity and being forced to take mind-altering medication, a Hawaii man is taking legal action.
Joshua Spriestersbach was arrested and committed to the Hawai’i State Hospital after authorities allegedly mistook him for a criminal named Thomas Castleberry, according to lawsuit filed on filed on Sunday. Spriestersbach was sleeping on a sidewalk just outside a homeless shelter in May 2017 when Honolulu Police picked him up and booked him for Castleberry’s alleged crimes.
Castleberry, whose criminal record includes drug use, auto theft, and burglary, had an outstanding warrant for his arrest.
Spriestersbach provided officers with his name, date of birth, social security number, and fingerprints, but Honolulu Police never verified his information, according to the Hawai’i Innocence Project. Police also had Castleberry’s image on file, but no distinction was made between the two men.
Spriestersbach spent four months at the Oahu Community Correctional Center, awaiting his first court appearance. Despite insisting he wasn’t Thomas Castleberry in court, Spriestersbach’s public defender requested a three-doctor panel evaluate his client at the state hospital, where he spent the next two and a half years.
According to the lawsuit, Spriestersbach was represented by an additional six public defenders, none of whom verified the accused’s identity.
Spriestersbach was allegedly drugged into a stupor as officials mistook his claims of mistaken identity for symptoms of delusion.
“Once Joshua was at HSH, he told hospital staff, his doctors, and the three mental health evaluators that he was not Castleberry,” according to the Innocence Project. “The more Joshua protested that he was not Castleberry and that he had never committed the crimes he was in HSH for, the more he was given strong anti-psychotic medication, which caused him to be catatonic.”
In 2018, hospital employees escorted Spriestersbach to Honolulu to unearth copies of his state identification card and social security card, according to court records. Even though they demonstrated proof of his identity, doctors “continued to illegally incarcerate Joshua for two more years.”
Ken Lawson of the Hawai’i Civil Rights Project told Hawai’i News Now that Spriestersbach was abruptly released from the hospital in 2020 when a doctor independently investigated his claims and found he was telling the truth.
“They dropped him off at the houseless shelter, gave him back his 50 cents, and acted like this never happened,” said Lawson.
On Sunday, the Hawai’i Civil Rights Project filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Spriestersbach against the city of Honolulu, the office of the public defender, the state of Hawai’i, and dozens of others, including a list of doctors, according to court records.
“These traumatic events have already shocked America,” the lawsuit states, referencing an article from the New York Times. “But the trauma continues. Unless all law enforcement and medical records reflecting Joshua’s misidentification are immediately corrected, Joshua faces being rearrested and incarcerated for Thomas R. Castleberry’s crimes.”
Spriestersbach’s attorneys are suing the defendants for malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and more, according to the complaint.
Honolulu Police Interim Chief Rade Vanic made a brief statement about Spriestersbach’s accusations, according to Hawai’i News Now.
“The HPD is currently reviewing department policies and procedures to determine if changes are needed,” said Vanic. “We are also continuing to work with city attorneys to fully investigate and address the allegations in the lawsuit.”
Ken Lawson acknowledged more needed to be done for people like Spriestersbach, who struggle with mental health and homelessness.
“Just lack of caring,” said Lawson, according to News Now. “If you are houseless and you struggle with mental health issues, there’s just a lack of caring.”
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