Cincinnati civil rights attorney sues for man wrongfully held in Hawaii mental hospital for 2 years

Joshua Spriestersbach
Joshua Spriestersbach(Provided)
Published: Nov. 22, 2021 at 7:26 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 23, 2021 at 4:40 AM EST
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - A veteran Cincinnati civil rights attorney is part of a team of lawyers suing on behalf of a man wrongly held in a mental hospital for more than two years due to mistaken identity.

Al Gerhardstein says Joshua Spriestersbach seeks reforms at all levels to benefit mentally ill and houseless peoples that interact with the police.

In a case that made national headlines, Spriestersbach was houseless and in line for a free meal when he was wrongly arrested for another man’s crimes in 2017 in Honolulu, Hawaii.

He was held for 32 months in a mental hospital and forcibly medicate during much of that time before his release in January 2020.

A petition from the Hawaii Innocence Project already is pending to correct the records so he isn’t arrested again on the other man’s open warrant for drug-related offenses.

The state has not yet responded to that case or acted to solve the problem, according to the Hawaii Innocence Project.

Now, a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Monday alleges he was ignored by the arresting officers, the jail guards, his public defenders and his doctors.

Other allegations in the complaint include false imprisonment, medical malpractice and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Spriestersbach is seeking reforms at all levels to benefit mentally ill and houseless peoples that interact with the police.

The Honolulu Police Department is reviewing its policies and procedures “to determine if changes are needed. We are also continuing to work with city attorneys to fully investigate and address the allegations in the lawsuit,” Interim Chief Rade Vanic said Monday in a statement to Hawaii News Now.

Spriestersbach, Gerhardstein and his other lawyers say they want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone again.

“Our goal includes structural reforms at the arresting agency, jail, public defender and hospital to ensure that clients are properly identified, their own words are given weight, and that errors once made are promptly corrected – this is particularly needed for houseless and mentally ill people like Joshua,” Gerhardstein said Monday.

Gerhardstein is known for securing systemic reforms in prisons, jails, and law enforcement, most recently in the Kyle Plush wrongful death case against the city of Cincinnati - and subsequent $6 million settlement.

He also was lead counsel in a case that led to the 2015 landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage across the nation, Obergefell vs. Hodges.

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