Man Died of Meth Overdose While In Border Patrol Custody

By Victoria Kim 03/19/14

After being arrested at a checkpoint, a U.S. citizen was found unresponsive in his cell because border patrol agents suspected he was faking a head injury and seizure-like activities.

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The U.S. citizen who died in a Border Patrol holding cell on Christmas Day suffered a methamphetamine overdose, the San Diego County medical examiner concluded in a report on Friday.

On December 24, Steven Brian Keith, 58, was arrested at a Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 8 for drug possession and intent to distribute after officials allegedly discovered three pounds of marijuana and a pipe with meth residue in his car. Before he could be relocated to jail, Keith was taken to Campo Border Patrol station near San Diego to be processed, where he would die early Christmas morning.

While in custody, Keith appeared “fidgety” and “physically and mentally unstable.” According to the report, he struck his head on a concrete bench after falling backward in his cell. About two hours later, agents called an on-site paramedic to check on him. The paramedic suspected Keith was faking an injury and decided he should remain in the cell. According to San Diego County Sheriff’s Deputy Hector Fuentes, Keith was seen having “seizure-like activity” on surveillance video. Authorities returned to the cell to find him unresponsive and were unable to revive him.

The Oakdale, CA resident was in San Diego visiting friends for the holidays at the time of the incident. His death was ruled an accident, but this is hardly an isolated case. “Since 2010, we have had more than 20 individuals who have died while in Border Patrol custody,” said Andrea Guerrero, executive director of Alliance San Diego, a community-driven social justice organization. “We don’t have any answers as to what happened in any of those cases. Those are all pending investigation or investigations that have never even started,” she said. 

Earlier this month, Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher asked agents to exercise restraint, as the agency’s use of force has come under increased scrutiny. In December, agent Jerry Conlin maintained that no force was used against Keith. 

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr