The Hawaii Innocence Project has filed a memo in support of a man they say was wrongly incarcerated at Hawaii State Hospital for two years and eight months in a case of mistaken identity.
The memo, filed Monday, supports the petition of Joshua Spriestersbach, who is requesting the state of Hawaii correct the records and vacate the arrest that led to his confinement at the hospital.
According to the Hawaii Innocence Project, on May 11, 2017, Spriestersbach, who struggles with a mental health disability, was waiting for food outside of a shelter for homeless people with mental health issues in Honolulu, when he fell asleep waiting in line.
Spriestersbach was arrested by an unnamed Honolulu police officer, according to the Hawaii Innocence Project, and taken to the Oahu Community Correctional Center.
The memo said Spriestersbach thought he was being arrested for a local ordinance against sitting or lying down in public spaces, but the memo said he was actually arrested for a probation violation for a person named Thomas Castleberry.
“Instead of comparing Mr. Spriestersbach’s booking photograph and fingerprints to the real Mr. Castleberry’s, they booked Mr. Spriestersbach for Mr. Castleberry’s crime despite Mr. Spriestersbach providing his name and identifying information,” the memo said.
Jail records in Alaska show that Thomas R. Castleberry was incarcerated at the Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward at the time Spriestersbach was arrested. Castleberry is not due to be released from the facility until 2022.
Honolulu Police spokesperson Michelle Yu told CNN Thursday via email, “The department is looking into the circumstances of Mr. Spriestersbach’s arrest.”
After his initial court appearance on June 14, 2017, the memo says Spriestersbach told his attorney from the Honolulu Office of the Public Defender that he was not Castleberry and provided the attorney with his identifying information including his full legal name, social security number and date of birth.
According to the Hawaii Innocence Project, the attorney requested that the court order a three-panel of doctors to evaluate Spriestersbach to determine his mental fitness to proceed with trial.
The Honolulu Office of the Public Defender has not responded to multiple requests for comment from CNN.
According to the memo, Spriestersbach was transferred to the Hawaii State Hospital (HSH) where he told his doctors and providers that he was not Castleberry, that his name was Joshua Spriestersbach and provided his date of birth and social security number.
“No one believed Mr. Spriestersbach, and they continued to call him Mr. Castleberry despite his continued protests and denial that he was Mr. Castleberry,” the memo said.
“Once at the H.S.H., Mr. Spriestersbach was ordered to attend group sessions for illegal drug users due to Mr. Castleberry’s drug convictions, despite Mr. Spriestersbach having no history of having used or abused any illegal drugs and having no criminal convictions for illegal drug use,” the memo said.
The Hawaii Innocence Project said Spriestersbach was deemed problematic because he did not want to attend the group sessions, and he was given doses of anti-psychotic medications, “which caused him to become despondent and catatonic.”
“Yet, 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 memo alleges.
The Hawaii Department of Health declined to comment to CNN.
After multiple panels of doctors found Spriestersbach unfit to stand trial, he remained at HSH until a doctor believed him and attempted to contact the Public Defender’s office, the memo said.
According to the Hawaii Innocence Project, Spriestersbach was released by the hospital on January 17, 2020, with 50 cents and his identification documents. A conference with the presiding judge was held days later, their memo says, but Spriestersbach was not informed it was taking place, and there was no formal dismissal of charges.
The court records do not have any indication that the wrong man was in custody, only saying that the “court instructed the parties to inform their administrators of the situation.”
The Hawaii Department of the Attorney General told CNN it will look into allegations that Spriestersbach’s true identity should have been determined throughout his prosecution and confinement.
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