Man Was Held for More Than 2 Years Over Mistaken Identity, His Lawyer Says

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Joshua Spriestersbach was arrested successful 2017 successful Hawaii aft a constabulary serviceman thought helium looked similar a antheral who had an outstanding warrant, according to a petition to wide his record.

Joshua Spriestersbach, who present  lives with his sister successful  Vermont, spent 2  and a fractional  years successful  a jailhouse  and authorities   infirmary  successful  Hawaii aft  helium  was arrested successful  a lawsuit  of mistaken identity, according to the Hawaii Innocence Project.
Credit...Vedanta Griffith, via Associated Press

Aug. 6, 2021, 5:30 a.m. ET

The agelong ordeal of Joshua Spriestersbach, a stateless antheral successful Hawaii, began connected May 11, 2017, erstwhile a Honolulu constabulary serviceman woke him up and arrested him. He had fallen dormant arsenic helium waited successful enactment to participate a structure for food, but, instead, helium was sent to a jailhouse connected Oahu for a transgression helium didn’t commit, according to a petition his lawyer filed this week seeking to wide his record.

The constabulary serviceman thought that Mr. Spriestersbach, present 50, looked similar Thomas Castleberry, who was wanted connected charges stemming from a 2006 cause case, according to Mr. Spriestersbach’s lawyer.

Mr. Spriesterbach, who thought helium had been arrested due to the fact that helium violated Honolulu’s ban connected sitting oregon lying connected sidewalks, was not carrying an ID astatine the time, and helium insisted that helium wasn’t Mr. Castleberry and that helium didn’t adjacent cognize the man, according to the petition. But the authorities didn’t judge him.

“I bash not recognize the charges,” helium would aboriginal archer a psychiatrist, according to the petition. “I conscionable fell asleep.”

This misunderstanding outgo Mr. Spriestersbach, whose household says helium has schizophrenia, much than 2 and a fractional years of his life. The concern was acceptable consecutive lone aft idiosyncratic astatine the intelligence infirmary wherever helium was sent aft a fewer months verified that helium wasn’t Mr. Castleberry, according to his lawyer, Jennifer Brown, who works for the Hawaii Innocence Project. The enactment took connected Mr. Spriestersbach’s lawsuit aft his household reached retired past summer.

Ms. Brown described the yearslong ordeal successful the petition arsenic a “gross miscarriage of justice.” She and the organization’s co-director, Kenneth Lawson, said that authorities and metropolis authorities had repeatedly failed Mr. Spriestersbach.

First, Mr. Lawson said, the Honolulu Police Department did not comparison Mr. Spriestersbach’s fingerprints and photograph with those of Mr. Castleberry’s, which were already successful the constabulary database. So the constabulary sent Mr. Spriestersbach to jail, wherever helium stayed for a fewer months until the authorities authorities transferred him to Hawaii State Hospital for intelligence wellness care, according to the petition and to Mr. Lawson.

Then, Mr. Lawson said, Mr. Spriestersbach’s nationalist defenders failed him. He was represented by a bid of lawyers who did not judge him erstwhile helium said helium wasn’t Mr. Castleberry. In fact, helium told the nationalist defenders that helium wasn’t connected Oahu astatine the clip Mr. Castleberry is said to person committed his crimes, Mr. Lawson said. He added that Mr. Castleberry had been successful an Alaska correctional installation the full clip Mr. Spriestersbach was accused of Mr. Castleberry’s crimes. (Mr. Castleberry, who is 49, remains incarcerated successful Alaska.)

A Honolulu Police Department spokeswoman said Thursday that the section was “looking into the circumstances of Mr. Spriestersbach’s arrest.” The infirmary did not respond to emails oregon telephone calls connected Thursday requesting comment.

Hawaii’s Office of the Public Defender besides did not respond to emails and telephone calls connected Thursday seeking comment.

At the hospital, Mr. Spriestersbach protested erstwhile helium was forced to be radical sessions for cause users, and employees responded by giving him antipsychotic medications that made him drool and conflict to walk, according to the petition and to Vedanta Griffith, his sister.

“The much Mr. Spriestersbach vocalized his innocence by asserting that helium is not Mr. Castleberry,” the petition said, “the much helium was declared delusional and psychotic.”

All but 1 of his court-ordered psychiatrists failed to admit that Mr. Spriestersbach wasn’t lying astir his identity, Mr. Lawson said. He hadn’t yet gone to proceedings due to the fact that the psychiatrists, sent by tribunal judges, hadn’t determined that helium was acceptable to basal trial.

Things started to displacement successful November 2019, erstwhile 1 of his psychiatrists obtained his commencement certificate and realized that Mr. Spriestersbach was the idiosyncratic helium said helium was, according to the petition. But the authoritative grounds is spotty astir what happened betwixt past and his January 2020 release, Mr. Lawson said.

The hospital’s discharge record, which Mr. Spriestersbach’s sister provided to The New York Times, shows that the court-ordered psychiatrist reported her uncovering to the hospital’s lawyer and his nationalist defender.

The hospital’s lawyer called the Honolulu police, and a detective discovered the premix up aft taking Mr. Spriestersbach’s fingerprints and photograph, according to the record. Mr. Spriestersbach was softly released from custody.

“No 1 said thing about, ‘We made a mistake. We request to hole this,’” Mr. Lawson said. “Nothing.”

Mr. Spriestersbach’s lawsuit drew wide attraction this week aft Ms. Brown filed the petition connected Monday successful the state’s First Circuit Court to wide his sanction and vacate his 2017 arrest.

Representatives from the Honolulu prosecuting attorney’s bureau and the state’s Department of the Attorney General said connected Wednesday that their offices were looking into the Innocence Project’s accusations.

“The allegations successful the petition are concerning to us,” said Matt Dvonch, the peculiar counsel to the prosecuting attorney.

Mr. Spriestersbach is inactive astatine the halfway of what his sister described successful an interrogation connected Thursday arsenic a “tangled hornet’s nest.” Court records successful Hawaii enactment that Mr. Spriestersbach is known by the alias Thomas Castleberry, and Mr. Castleberry inactive has an outstanding apprehension warrant successful the state. Mr. Spriestersbach is terrified, Ms. Griffith said, that a constabulary serviceman anyplace successful the state could detain him and extradite him backmost to the islands.

Ms. Griffith said helium was embarrassed by what had happened to him successful Hawaii, noting that helium declined to remark connected his situation. He moved to Hawaii with her household successful 2003, and she mislaid way of him aft she moved backmost to the mainland. He reunited with his sister aft helium was released successful January 2020 to a stateless shelter, wherever helium called his family.

Ms. Griffith tearfully recalled the archetypal clip she saw her member astatine the airport, aft much than a decennary apart.

“His garment was bedewed from drool, and helium was shuffling his feet,” she said. “He was conscionable truthful medicated.”

She brought him to her location successful Vermont, she said, wherever she and her hubby navigator him meals each day. Mr. Spriestersbach takes less medications these days and is doing overmuch better, Ms. Griffith said, but helium doesn’t consciousness safe.

“He goes extracurricular and walks astir connected the property,” she said, “but helium doesn’t privation to permission due to the fact that he’s acrophobic that anyplace we go, determination could beryllium constabulary officers.”

Mr. Spriestersbach spends his days learning however to play a bass guitar and watching the tv bid “The Walking Dead,” Ms. Griffith said. She said helium would ever person a location with her family, truthful helium ne'er has to beryllium stateless again.

“He’s the kindest, gentlest soul, and helium wouldn’t wounded anybody,” she said. “There’s thing they tin bash to springiness him those years back.”

Susan C. Beachy contributed research.

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