A homeless man in Hawaii who was wrongly arrested for a crime committed by someone else and locked up in a mental hospital for more than two years was released when officials realised their mistake, court documents showed.
The Hawaii Innocence Project asked a judge to rescind the arrest and correct Joshua Spriestersbach’s records.
The court filing explains his bizarre plight that 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 woke him, Mr Spriestersbach thought he was being arrested for the city’s ban on sitting or laying down on public sidewalks.
However the officer had mistaken him for a man named Thomas Castleberry, who had a warrant out for his arrest for violating probation in a 2006 drug case.
Mr Spriestersbach somehow ended up with Mr Castleberry as his alias, even though he never claimed to be Mr Castleberry or met him, according to the Hawaii Innocence Project.
Instead, despite Mr Spriestersbach’s protests that he wasn’t Mr Castleberry, he was committed to the Hawaii State Hospital (HSH).
“Yet, the more Mr Spriestersbach vocalised 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 petition said.
Eventually a hospital psychiatrist listened to him and Google searches and phone calls verified that Mr Spriestersbach was on another island when Mr Castleberry was initially arrested, according to the court document.
Fingerprints and photographs determined that the wrong man had been arrested and Mr Spriestersbach was quickly and secretly released, the petition said.
After his release, the now 50-year-old ended up at a homeless shelter, which contacted his family.
“Part of what they used against him was his own argument: ‘I’m not Thomas Castleberry. I didn’t commit these crimes. This isn’t me’,” his sister Vedanta Griffith told the Associated Press agency.
“So they used that as saying he was delusional, as justification for keeping him.
“‘They don’t come to him and say, ‘We are so sorry’ or, how about even ‘Gee, this wasn’t you. You were right all along’.”
Mr Spriestersbach now refuses to leave his sister’s home in Vermont. “He’s so afraid that they’re going to take him again,” Ms Griffith said.