A Hawaii man who was imprisoned in a mental institution for more than two years because of a case of mistaken identity has filed a federal lawsuit against the state, NBC News reports.
Joshua Spriestersbach, 50, is suing the Honolulu Police Department, public defenders, and doctors at the psychiatric hospital in Kaneohe, HI for violating his civil rights. Spriestersbach’s lawsuit alleges false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, malicious prosecution, and abuse of process.
Spriestersbach was falsely arrested in 2017 after he fell asleep outside a Honolulu homeless shelter. Spriestersbach said he assumed he was being arrested for violating the city’s ban on sleeping on public sidewalks; however, it turns out the officer had misidentified Spriestersbach as Thomas Castleberry—a fugitive who had an outstanding probation warrant stemming from a 2006 drug case.
In January 2020, nearly three years after his arrest, Spriestersbach was released after a doctor found out he was telling the truth about his identity.
“They dropped him off at the houseless shelter, gave him back his 50 cents and acted like this never happened,” Ken Lawson, of the Hawaii Civil Rights Project, the group that filed the lawsuit, told reporters.
The Hawaii Innocence Project, a nonprofit that supports the wrongfully convicted, filed a petition in August asking the court to vacate Spriestersbach’s arrest. The organization said it is unclear how the officer mistook Spriestersbach for Castleberry, as the two men never met and there is no indication that Spriestersbach ever identified himself as the wanted man. Though he allegedly told officers they had arrested the wrong guy, he was ultimately committed to the Hawaii State Hospital, where he remained for two years and eight months.
“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 read. “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.”
The Honolulu Police Department issued a statement on Monday addressing Spriestersbach’s lawsuit.
“The HPD 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.”