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Man detained more than 2 years because of mistaken identity sues Hawaii

Joshua Spriestersbach repeatedly told officials that he was not the man they thought he was, but they wouldn't listen, and hospitalized him and treated him against his will, the suit said.

A Hawaii man who was incarcerated and in a mental institution for more than two years because of a case of mistaken identity has sued the state, some Honolulu police officers, public defenders and doctors.

Joshua Spriestersbach, 50, repeatedly told authorities he was not Thomas Castleberry, a man who had a warrant out for his arrest for allegedly violating probation in a 2006 drug case, his attorneys said in the lawsuit, filed Sunday.

But police, public defenders and doctors at Hawaii State Hospital, where Spriestersbach had been treated before, ignored his plight.

Those who should have been advocating for him used his "protests regarding his identity as evidence of his incompetency," the suit said. "He was forced to take psychiatric medications in increasing doses until he became catatonic, all because Joshua continued to assert that he was not Thomas R. Castleberry and had not committed any of Thomas R. Castleberry’s felony crimes."

The suit alleges a violation of civil rights, false imprisonment, medical malpractice and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Spriestersbach's 32-month detention began while he was waiting in a line for food and fell asleep. Spriestersbach had been approached by police in Honolulu at least twice before. The first time, he had given officers his grandfather's name, William C. Castleberry, which he would use on occasion, according to the suit.

Image: Joshua Spriestersbach
Joshua Spriestersbach in Danby, Vermont on April 12, 2020. Vedanta Griffith / via AP

Thomas Castleberry's name was subsequently listed as an alias of Spriestersbach, even though he had not given that name. When officers twice realized Castleberry and Spriestersbach were not the same person, they released Spriestersbach, but failed to correct police records, the suit said.

When Spriestersbach was stopped a third time, he was arrested on Castleberry's 8-year warrant.

Police "failed to verify Joshua’s identity by comparing his name, photo, fingerprints, and date of birth to that of Thomas R. Castleberry, the suit said.

Spriestersbach was adamant that he was not Castleberry and had not committed his crimes, and at one point was able to produce his Social Security and state identification cards, but officials "continued to illegally incarcerate Joshua for two more years," the suit said.

If authorities had done some research, they might have discovered that Castleberry had been arrested in Alaska in 2016, the suit said. He is set to be released next year.

While Castleberry had committed multiple felonies, Spriestersbach’s only interactions with police were related to his houseless status.

Even Hawaii State Hospital doctors who had treated Spriestersbach previously failed to believe him or investigate his claims, it said.

In January 2020, a doctor did verify Spriestersbach's identity.

He was released with 50 cents to his name, two copies of his birth certificate and his state identification and Social Security cards. He was driven back to the homeless shelter where he was arrested from in 2017.

"Joshua suffered special and general economic and non-economic damages to be proven at trial, including forced medical treatment and medication, loss of freedom, great mental anguish, severe emotional distress, anxiety, embarrassment, humiliation, worry, and anger," the suit said.

He is suing in hopes that a mix-up like the one he was the victim of never happens again to him or anyone else, according to his attorneys. They warn that records identifying Spriestersbach as Castleberry have not been corrected.

They also said that Castleberry's records now list Spriestersbach as an alias, which they allege was "an attempt to cover-up, explain and excuse the gross miscarriage of justice that was done."

Gary Yamashiroya, special assistant to the Hawaii attorney general, told The Associated Press Monday that the department "has not been served with the complaint and have not yet had the opportunity to review it with our client agencies.”

The Honolulu Police Department “is currently reviewing department policies and procedures to determine if changes are needed, Interim Chief Rade Vanic said. “We are also continuing to work with city attorneys to fully investigate and address the allegations in the lawsuit.”

State Public Defender James Tabe told the AP Monday that his office had no comment.