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Home > Topics > Arrest

Man dies of meth overdose; medic thought he faked a seizure

The American being held in a border patrol cell fell and hit his head; the medic thought he was faking an injury, but then found him unresponsive

By Elliot Spagat
The Associated Press

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — An American citizen died of a methamphetamine overdose at a U.S. Border Patrol station near San Diego shortly after a paramedic thought he might be faking a seizure, an autopsy concluded.

Steven Brian Keith, 58, died Dec. 25, about seven hours after he was stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint on Interstate 8 and arrested on suspicion of drug possession, the San Diego County Office of the Medical Examiner said Friday. Marijuana and a pipe with methamphetamine residue were allegedly found in his vehicle.

The death at the Campo station, about 60 miles east of San Diego, was ruled an accident.

Keith, a resident of Oakdale, Calif., who spent significant time in Asia, was "fidgety and appeared both physically and mentally unstable during most of this time in custody," Border Patrol Agent Matt Grosset told investigators, according to the report. He kicked his legs in his private cell and fell backward, apparently striking his head on a concrete bench.

An agent who checked on him after the fall conversed with him for several minutes, Grosset said. About 1½ to 2 hours later, agents noticed he was moving less and contacted an on-site paramedic, who thought Keith might be faking an injury.

The paramedic decided Keith should stay in the cell but became concerned after watching him on video for four or five minutes. Authorities returned, found him unresponsive, and were unable to revive him.

San Diego County Sheriff's Deputy Hector Fuentes told investigators that Keith was seen on camera having "seizure-like activity." The on-site paramedic concluded Keith was faking a seizure, Fuentes said.

Mitra Ebadolahi, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties, said the autopsy raised troubling questions.

"Irrespective of the potential role of drugs in Mr. Keith's death, why did so much time pass before Mr. Keith was evaluated by a medical professional while in (Border Patrol) custody? Why wasn't Mr. Keith provided with medical assistance or evaluation at the start of his time in custody, given his 'unusual and notable' behavior?" she said.

A Border Patrol spokesman, Timothy Hammill, had no immediate comment when contacted after business hours on Friday.

Associated PressCopyright 2015 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

The Border Patrol has been under growing scrutiny for use of force, particularly against rock-throwers and assailants in vehicles. Last week, Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher urged agents to exercise restraint.

The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
Yvonne Hebert Yvonne Hebert Wednesday, March 19, 2014 8:59:32 AM No time passed. He was being evaluated while on video. How much of a medical eval is visual? There was also the risk of excited delirium. The medic has to keep self safe first. Its one of the first things drilled into our heads as we begin training.
Mike S. Dumond Sr Mike S. Dumond Sr Wednesday, March 19, 2014 11:23:57 AM That is probably the worse response possible. I'm glad you don't work up here.
Lori Jean Lynk Lori Jean Lynk Thursday, March 20, 2014 6:36:09 PM Never decide someone is "faking it". With a head injury, questionable actions while in custody and a witnessed seizure, time for a trip to the hospital. It is the doctors job to decide if the guy is faking it or not, not the medic.
Wayland Slater Wayland Slater Saturday, March 22, 2014 3:34:29 PM The way he first appeared such as "fidgety" may not have thrown a red flag, but would constitute to be watchful, and not by a lone camera. But when he fell and hit his head, that should have been a definite red flag, primarily since he hit his head. Being "checked" by talking with an Agent is not sufficient. Would have transported him then and not wait 1 1/2 - 2 hrs. If you think they are faking it, you still work the situation. Rather be safe than sorry.

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