Most people have mistakenly identified someone at some point in their lives. The embarrassment of calling someone the wrong name or thinking they are someone else usually is an incident to laugh about later.
But for one man in Honolulu, the story of being mistaken for someone else is not humorous at all.
According to The Associated Press, “Hawaii officials wrongly arrested a homeless man for a crime committed by someone else, locked him up in a state hospital for more than two years, forced him to take psychiatric drugs and then tried to cover up the mistake by quietly setting him free with just 50 cents to his name, the Hawaii Innocence Project said in a court document asking a judge to set the record straight.”
If you think that sounds like the plot of the latest M. Night Shyamalan movie, you’re not alone.
It all started when Joshua Spriestersbach fell asleep on a sidewalk outside a Honolulu shelter in 2017, the AP reported. A police officer eventually shook him awake, leading Spriestersbach to believe he was being apprehended for violating the city’s ban on sitting or lying down on public sidewalks.
Instead, the officer reportedly mistook Spriestersbach for Thomas Castleberry, a man who had an outstanding warrant for violating his probation following a 2006 drug incident.
According to the AP, the Hawaii Innocence Project said in its case that Spriestersbach had never even met Castleberry.
Spriestersbach attempted to explain to the officer that he was apprehending the wrong person, but instead of looking into his claims, officials admitted Spriestersbach to the Hawaii State Hospital.
“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 petitioners said, according to the AP.
“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.”
This is a gross mishandling of the situation by multiple government entities. If police or hospital staff had simply done a little research, they could have found that Spriestersbach was telling the truth.
He spent an astounding two years and eight months in HSH before a hospital psychiatrist finally listened to him and performed a simple Google search.
The psychiatrist found that Castleberry had been in an Alaska prison since 2016, the court document said. The psychiatrist then called a detective, who came to the hospital and verified by using fingerprints and photographs that Spriestersbach was not Castleberry.
It is astounding that such readily available information was not even considered until a wrongfully convicted man had spent nearly three years in Hawaii State Hospital.
A court petition filed on Aug. 2 asks that a judge vacate Spriestersbach’s arrest and correct his records.
Per the AP, the Hawaii Innocence Project said many people “share in the blame for this gross miscarriage of justice,” including the state’s police, public defender’s office, attorney general and hospital.
Even after Spriestersbach’s identity was verified, officials allegedly attempted to keep the story under wraps.
“A secret meeting was held with all of the parties, except Mr. Spriestersbach, present,” the court document said, according to the AP.
“There is no court record of this meeting or no public court record of this meeting. No entry or order reflects this miscarriage of justice that occurred or a finding that Mr. Spriestersbach is not Thomas Castleberry.”
Spriestersbach, who declined to comment for the AP story, is 50 years old; Castleberry is 49.
The AP reported that Spriestersbach was quietly released in January 2020 to a homeless shelter that proceeded to contact his family. His sister, Vedanta Griffith, took him under her care, and he now refuses to leave her property.
“He’s so afraid that they’re going to take him again,” Griffith said of Spriestersbach’s current state.
After all he has been through, who can blame him?
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