Joshua Spriestersbach was mistakenly arrested back in 2017 and penalized for the crimes committed by another person. Now the Hawaii Innocence Project has filed a petition requesting a judge clear his record of the crimes he didn’t commit. The project is “a law clinic and non-profit with a mission to free prisoners who are factually innocent but have been wrongfully convicted.” The project wants to rectify the wrong conviction and get Spriestersbach back on his feet.
Hawaii officials locked Joshua Spriestersbach in a state hospital for more than two years. When authorities realized he wasn’t the criminal, they let him out quietly and attempted to cover up the mistake. Spriestersbach was given 50 cents for his troubles and now the Hawaii Innocence Project is looking for retribution.
According to the petition, Spriestersbach fell asleep on the sidewalk outside of a Honolulu shelter back in 2017. The homeless man was hungry and exhausted, having fallen asleep while waiting for food from the shelter. Joshua Spriestersbach was woken up by a police officer. The homeless man believed he was being arrested for violating the city’s ban on sitting or laying down on public sidewalks.
Complying with the officer’s requests, Spriestersbach gave his full name, date of birth, and social security number. He was taken back to the precinct and booked. He thought he was being arrested for the crimes he actually committed. A month later, Spriestersbach understood that he was not arrested for lying on the sidewalk, but for crimes another man committed in 2006.
Joshua Spriestersbach was mistaken for Thomas Castleberry, who had an outstanding warrant for his arrest. Castleberry had violated his probation in a drug case from over a decade ago. The police employed all regular methods to book Spriestersbach, however despite mismatched fingerprints and DNA, authorities believed the homeless man was really Castleberry.
The Hawaii Innocence Project claims that the issue would have been immediately resolved if the police properly compared the two men’s photographs and fingerprints. Instead, Spriestersbach was arrested for crimes he didn’t commit. While in custody, Joshua Spriestersbach protested to police, explaining that he wasn’t Thomas Castleberry. Frustrated with his alleged antics, police committed Spriestersbach to the Hawaii State Hospital.
In the petition filed Monday, the Hawaii Innocence Project wrote that “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.”
Spriestersbach was forced to attend group sessions for illegal drug users. When he refused, the staff gave him “doses of anti-psychotic medications, including Haldol, which caused him to become despondent and catatonic,” according to the petition.
Authorities deemed Spriestersbach unfit to stand trial on multiple occasions, citing his frustrated outbursts and the fact that he repeatedly denied the charges against him. Spriestersbach was also attempting to convince doctors that he was not Castleberry, which officials used against him.
“It was understandable that Mr. Spriestersbach was in an agitated state when he was being wrongfully incarcerated for Mr. Castleberry’s crime,” the petition read. “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.”
Finally, Joshua Spriestersbach’s innocence was proven after a detective verified prison records. It was discovered that Castleberry had been in prison in Alaska since 2016. The detective also noticed that the fingerprints and photographs of the two men did not match. Spriestersbach was released from the hospital in January 2020, having been held against his will for two years and eight months.
According to Kenneth Lawson, the co-director of the Hawaii Innocence Project, Spriestersbach is “doing a lot better now, but the trauma that comes with being locked up and especially against your will and being forced to take medications and not have anybody listen to you… it’s that fear.”
The petition accuses authorities of holding a “secret meeting” after discovering their mistake. “Instead of making a record that would prevent future injustice from happening again to Mr. Spriestersbach, they have attempted to sweep their mistakes under the rug, to the continued detriment of Mr. Spriestersbach.”
“Perhaps they did so with the hope that because Mr. Spriestersbach has a mental health disability no one would believe what had happened to him or that he would not be competent enough to seek redress for what happened to him,” the petition added. “Without the record being corrected and a finding of actual innocence, Mr. Spriestersbach can still be arrested again for Thomas Castleberry’s crimes, which this miscarriage of justice in Mr. Spriestersbach’s case ongoing.”
While the Hawaii Innocence Project attempts to rectify the situation, Joshua Spriestersbach is staying with his sister, Vedanta Griffith. According to Griffith, Spriestersbach will not leave the Vermont home under any circumstances because he believes the authorities are “going to take him again.”
She said that “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.’ So they used that as saying he was delusional, as justification for keeping him.”
Vedanta Griffith continued, pointing out that “when light is shown on it, what do they do? They don’t even put it on the record. They don’t make it part of the case. And then 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.'”
According to reports, Griffith spent 16 years searching for her brother. She had said that Joshua Spriestersbach moved with her to Hawaii in 2003 when her husband was stationed in Oahu with the Army. Spriestersbach began suffering from mental health issues and left for the Big Island before vanishing completely. Griffith is elated to have her brother back.