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 1 1/2 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.
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.