State Watch

Man mistakenly detained in Hawaii psychiatric hospital files civil rights lawsuit

A man who spent two years in a mental hospital in Hawaii after authorities mistook him for someone else filed a lawsuit Sunday against the state and several officials involved in his arrest and detention.

Joshua Spriestersbach, 50, filed the lawsuit through his attorneys, seeking monetary damages and a systemic correction in police and legal procedures to ensure the error never happens again. The lawsuit alleges medical malpractice, false imprisonment and infliction of emotional distress. It names police officers in Honolulu, as well as public defenders and doctors involved in his incarceration in Hawaii State Hospital.

“Joshua suffered special and general economic and non-economic damages to be proven at trial, including forced medical treatment and medication, loss of freedom, great mental anguish, severe emotional distress, anxiety, embarrassment, humiliation, worry, and anger,” the suit alleges, according to The Associated Press.

Spriestersbach, who was homeless at the time, was arrested in Honolulu in 2017 after officers assumed he was Thomas Castleberry, a man who then had a warrant out for his arrest. Castleberry is now in custody with the Department of Corrections in Alaska.

Spriestersbach had previously given his name as Castleberry — his grandfather’s last name — in one 2011 incident when police found him sleeping near a stairwell, The Honolulu Star Advertiser reported.

Police approached him one more time in 2015, and on that occasion Spriesterbach gave his full legal name. But in 2017, when they found him sleeping on a sidewalk, police arrested him under the assumption that he was Castleberry. Though they took both fingerprints and photographs during the arrest, authorities did not check either identifier against Castleberry’s, the lawsuit alleges.

Spriestersbach spent more than two years at Hawaii State Hospital, where he was subjected to psychiatric drug treatment, before a doctor realized in January 2020 that a mistake had been made and Spriestersbach was telling the truth about who he was. 

Spriestersbach was released with just 50 cents — as well as multiple forms of identification — in his possession.

The Honolulu Police Department said it was still looking into the case.

The department “is currently reviewing department policies and procedures to determine if changes are needed,” interim Chief Rade Vanic said in a statement to news outlets. “We are also continuing to work with city attorneys to fully investigate and address the allegations in the lawsuit.”

Tags Hawaii Honolulu Joshua Spriestersbach

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