Report Says Man Died Of Methamphetamine OD While In Border Patrol Custody

| by Jared Keever

An American citizen who died while in U.S. Border Patrol custody succumbed to methamphetamine toxicity according to a recently released medical examiner’s report. Al-Jazeera reports that Steven Keith, who died on Dec. 25, had been left alone in his cell and paramedics believed he was “faking” a seizure. The report called Keith’s death an accident.

According to NBC San Diego, Keith was arrested on Dec. 24, at a border checkpoint on Interstate 8. Agents had found drug paraphernalia and trace amounts of methamphetamine in his car. He was taken into custody and held at the Campo Border Patrol station. Six hours after his arrest he was dead. 

The community action group, Alliance San Diego, called attention to the death, saying it was only one in a long string of unexplained deaths that have occurred under the Border Patrol’s watch. 

"Since 2010, we have had more than 20 individuals who have died while in Border Patrol custody. 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," said Andrea Guerrero, executive director of Alliance San Diego.

The San Diego County medical examiner’s office took up an investigation of Keith’s death.

The report from that investigation relied heavily on testimony from agents who were present the night of the incident. 

Deputy Hector Fuentes told investigators that Keith “was witnessed over the cell monitor to have seizure-like activity.” At one point he fell on the floor and lay there, motionless, for 10 minutes. An agent checked on him and noted he was “very stiff.” He was left alone for another 90 minutes before agents checked on him again. At that time a paramedic checked him and determined that the activities were a faked seizure. 

The San Diego Union-Tribune story covering the report said the paramedic monitored Keith for another five minutes by video and grew concerned that he wasn’t moving. When agents checked him again he was unresponsive. Keith was declared dead at 12:38 a.m. on Dec. 25.

The report from the investigation stated that the high level of methamphetamine in Keith’s system was “suggestive that [he] may have swallowed a drug bindle or package of some type at the time he was taken into custody.” Investigators speculated that the package ruptured, leading to his death.

Sources: Al-Jazeera, NBC San Diego, The San Diego Union-Tribune