Man Sues After Being Locked In Mental Hospital by Mistake

Man who was homeless in Hawaii was arrested for someone else's warrant
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 23, 2021 4:56 PM CST
Man Sues Over Being Sent to Mental Institution by Mistake
In this photo provided by Vedanta Griffith, Joshua Spriestersbach enjoys birthday cake in Danby, Vermont on April 12, 2020.   (Vedanta Griffith via AP)

A formerly homeless man who ended up in a mental institution for more than two years because of mistaken identity is suing the state and various Honolulu police officers, Hawaii public defenders, and doctors. Joshua Spriestersbach's attorneys say in a lawsuit filed Sunday in US District Court in Honolulu that Hawaii officials haven't responded to a petition seeking to correct his records to ensure the error never happens again, per the AP. The petition filed in state court in August laid bare Spriestersbach's bizarre plight, which started with him falling asleep on a sidewalk.

He was homeless and hungry while waiting in a long line for food outside a Honolulu shelter in 2017. When a police officer roused him awake, Spriestersbach thought he was being arrested for the city’s ban on sitting or lying on public sidewalks. The officer mistook him for a man named Thomas Castleberry, who had a warrant out for his arrest for allegedly violating probation in a 2006 drug case. Despite Spriestersbach's protests that he wasn't Castleberry, he ended up in the Hawaii State Hospital, where he was forced to take psychiatric drugs, the petition said.

When a doctor looked into his case and verified the mix-up, officials tried to cover up the mistake by quietly setting him free with just 50 cents to his name, his lawyers said. Spriestersbach’s lawsuit alleges false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, and other claims. The lawsuit sheds new light on factors that led to the mix-up, starting with an encounter with officers that happened years earlier. Spriestersbach was arrested in 2011 for sleeping in a stairwell of a Honolulu middle school. It's unclear why, but he gave the last name Castleberry, which was his grandfather's last name, his lawyers said. He didn't give a first name. The alias would haunt him.

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During his 2017 arrest, Spriestersbach gave his real name, but Thomas Castleberry showed up as an alias. He was arrested for the warrant. Even though he was fingerprinted and photographed at a jail, no one checked the prints or photo against Thomas Castleberry’s, the lawsuit said. Castleberry, who isn't related to Spriestersbach, is in custody with the Alaska of Department of Corrections, with an expected release date in 2022, the lawsuit said. Spriestersbach now lives with his sister in Vermont. (More mistaken identity stories.)

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