Authorities in California are investigating the Christmas death of a U.S. citizen who collapsed in the custody of Border Patrol agents after he was detained for allegedly carrying three pounds of weed.
Steven Keith, 58, collapsed Christmas Eve while in a holding cell at the U.S. Border Patrol station in Campo, outside San Diego, according to agency spokesman Gerardo Gutierrez.
Keith was stopped by Border Patrol agents about 6 p.m. on Interstate 8 near the Mexican border. They took him into custody and placed him in a holding cell after they said they found marijuana, paraphernalia and traces of methamphetamine in his car. He was arrested on suspicion of illegal possession and intent to distribute marijuana.
After sitting in the cell for several hours, Keith became “incoherent and unresponsive,” according to agency officials. EMTs who work for the Border Patrol performed CPR on him until paramedics arrived. When they did, they were unable to save him.
Now the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office is formally investigating the cause of his death.
“Customs and Border Protection’s San Diego Sector Border Patrol is cooperating fully with these investigators to ensure a neutral third party reviews all evidence and information surrounding this unfortunate death,” said a statement released Saturday by the Border Patrol.
Keith’s sister Janet, a former cop who lives in Texas, said she wants to know what happened. Her brother was in good health, she said, and had recently arrived from his home in Thailand to visit family in San Diego over the holidays.
Janet Keith said she was told an autopsy had already been performed. But the body won’t be released until toxicology tests and the medical examiner’s investigation are finished. The death is also being investigated by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Investigator General.
“I am a former police officer myself, and I definitely want some answers, and I’m going to get them,” Janet Keith said.
This is not the only time in recent months a SoCAl man in federal custody for alleged marijuana crimes has died or nearly so. In 2012, DEA agents arrested a UC San Diego student named Daniel Chong when they raided a party on April 20.
Agents found ecstasy and guns at the party, but none of it was linked to Chong. His only offense was smoking pot at the party – barely a crime in California. Yet even after he was told he’d be released, agents handcuffed him and left him alone in a holding cell for nearly four days without food or water.
Chong, who nearly died, scored a $4.1 million settlement from the federal government in 2013.