Joshua Spriestersbach, who was mistakenly locked up in the state mental hospital for more than two years, is asking a judge to order that any criminal records be changed to remove any information identifying him as Thomas Castleberry, the man he was mistaken for.
The motion for preliminary injunction was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Hawaii. The case alleges that even though authorities have known for two years that Castleberry is not an alias used by Spriestersbach, police records still show it is.
In an affidavit, Spriestersbach, who has been living with his sister in Vermont, said he would like to return to Hawaii some day and doesn’t want to be mistakenly picked up again as Thomas Castleberry.
Neither state nor Honolulu officials responded to requests for comment.
The new filing sheds more light on what happened to Spriestersbach, who was locked up in the Hawaii State Hospital in 2017 after a Honolulu police officer mistakenly identified him as Castleberry, who was wanted on a warrant.
Although Spriestersbach allegedly told the police, his public defender, court officials and doctors at the hospital he was not Castleberry, no one believed him. Previous filings in the case, including a civil rights lawsuit filed in November, have detailed Spriestersbach’s encounters with Hawaii’s legal system. Police and court records show he had been arrested previously and determined not to be Castleberry after a fingerprint check.
But in 2017, after he was arrested for sleeping on a sidewalk outside the Safe Haven homeless shelter in Honolulu, authorities failed to recognize that he wasn’t Castleberry. He was determined to be delusional and held in the state mental hospital where he was treated with various psychiatric medications.
Spriestersbach’s attorneys have said their client repeatedly told authorities and hospital personnel he was not Castleberry. But a Jan. 29, 2020, discharge summary prepared by the doctor who finally figured it out tells a somewhat different story about why Spriestersbach was held against his will for so long.
Dr. Allison Garrett, a staff psychiatrist at the Hawaii State Hospital, wrote that Spriestersbach “initially appeared stable and appropriate” when he was admitted to Unit F of the hospital in September 2017 but that he was confused about the incident that had gotten him arrested and eventually hospitalized.
The treatment team asked for a panel examination, which was granted in November, but that before the exam Spriestersbach began to “slowly decompensate.”
“He became more and more aloof and disengaged,” she wrote. “He would communicate less and less with the treatment team and eventually stopped talking to them altogether, except for occasionally meeting with his social worker to talk about discharge.”
“He was subsequently not found fit at his hearing (on Jan. 18, 2018) as he essentially refused to participate in the panel examiners’ review.”
Over the next year or so, the doctors switched up Spriestersbach’s medications but for a while it didn’t seem to have much effect, the discharge summary suggests, “as he persisted in refusing to meet with his treatment team and would actively avoid his doctor by walking in the opposite direction any time to saw her.”
“This went on for months,” Garrett wrote.
She described him as low-key and not dangerous.
Another hearing, held in February 2019, found he was unfit again. A third hearing was held in May 2019 with the same outcome.
He was changed to a new medication in August 2019 and things started to improve. “His thoughts became more and more organized,” Garrett wrote, although he was still found unfit at a hearing that month.
He continued to improve and at a meeting with his treatment team on Jan. 2, 2020, he said he was not Thomas Castleberry and he didn’t know why there were drug charges associated with him because he didn’t use drugs. He also told them he wasn’t even living on Oahu in 2006 when Castleberry was incarcerated.
“While he had denied being Thomas Castleberry before … this was the first time he actually denied that the charges had anything to do with him,” Garrett wrote.
Spriestersbach also told doctors he was hospitalized in California in 2006.
Garrett called the hospital in California, which did have an admission documented for him — except it was in 2003, Garrett wrote.
When she told him that, Spriestersbach said he must have been on the Big Island then. That turned out to be true.
Garrett “reviewed the records available from the Big Island and found documentation of multiple meetings between him and his case manager on the Big island when Thomas Castleberry was confirmed to be incarcerated at (Oahu Community Correctional Center),” she wrote. “This writer immediately called the Hawaii State Hospital’s attorney for assistance with what appeared to be mistaken identity.”
Garrett said she also had tried to reach Spriestersbach’s public defender a few times, but never got a call back.
The state’s attorney arranged for Spriestersbach to be fingerprinted and “the fingerprint mismatch” was confirmed on Jan. 17, 2020.
He was discharged that same day.
The discharge summary says Spriestersbach was told he could stay at the hospital until he found housing, but he refused and insisted he be taken to Safe Haven, the homeless shelter near where he’d been arrested nearly three years before. Garrett said they told Spriestersbach he couldn’t get into the shelter unless he was homeless, but he wanted to go anyway.
So he was taken to Safe Haven and dropped off with two weeks worth of medication, the discharge summary says.
Spriestersbach’s attorneys have also said he had 50 cents in his pockets.
Garrett wrote that hospital officials told Spriestersbach that Thomas Castleberry was still listed in the records as an alias and that a bench warrant was reissued for the actual Thomas Castleberry. Officials did give Spriestersbach two copies of his birth certificate, state ID and social security card when he was discharged, the summary says.
Meanwhile, the actual Thomas Castleberry appears to be in prison in Alaska where he has been since 2015 on kidnapping, assault and weapons charges, according to documents filed by defense attorneys on Friday. He’s scheduled to be released from prison this year.
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Patti Epler is the Editor and General Manager of Civil Beat. She's been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years, primarily in Hawaii, Alaska, Washington and Arizona. You can follow her on twitter at @PattiEpler, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 808-377-0561.