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How an American citizen died in Border Patrol custody and the case was never investigated.

Updated: Apr 3

This is the second article in my series about the illegal and unauthorized coverup teams known as Border Patrol Critical Incident Teams. Steven Keith's death in Border Patrol custody and the subsequent coverup of his death is just one example of how everyday Americans can find themselves dead while in Border Patrol custody without any legal investigation into how or why that death occurred by authorized authorities. Please note that the San Diego Sector Critical Incident Team was officially called the Critical Incident Investigation Team, but I use Critical Incident Team for consistency as there are many names for these illegal units.

Steven Brian Keith picture
Steven Brian Keith was stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint on Christmas Eve in 2013. A little over six hours later, he was dead. No official or legal investigation into his death was ever completed.

When US citizen Steven Keith left his friend's house located in the Campo, California area on Christmas Eve in 2013, chances are he was a little concerned about being stopped at the Border Patrol Interstate 8 Checkpoint in Pine Valley. Although he was alone, agents rarely stopped and inspected cars driven by caucasians. If there was a drug sniffing K-9 on the primary inspection point, a bit of marijuana could make the dog hit on his car and make his night a long one.

In 2013, weed was still illegal in California, but 3 pounds was not that much marijuana for what Border Patrol agents normally see. As a former agent working that very same checkpoint for six years, I can attest that it is common for those found with less than a hundred pounds of weed to be cited for personal use if local law enforcement was around to ticket them. If local law wasn't present, Interstate 8 Border Patrol agents were known for confiscating weed that often ended up in one of the agents pockets by the end of the night.

Steve, unfortunately, was not so lucky that night.

A death in custody at the Border Patrol I-8 Checkpoint was in the San Diego County Sheriff's Office (SDSO) jurisdiction, but they only did a preliminary investigation into Steve's death. Local media at the time claimed that there was an investigation into the death by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General, but inquiries to the agency by family for the last decade have gone unanswered. No findings were ever publicly released.

At the time of his death, Steve's sister and next of kin, Jan Keith, was contacted by San Diego Sector Border Patrol Critical Incident Team member Border Patrol agent Tracey Wong and was told she would be doing the investigation into her brother's death in custody. BPA Wong was a member of the illegal and secret coverup teams and had no legal or congressional authority to lead a death investigation committed by her coworkers.

Above are notes Jan Keith took from talking to Border Patrol after Steve's death.

Years later, when Jan Keith heard that I came forward to tell the truth about Border Patrol's coverup teams, she contacted me and gave me everything she had on the case, which wasn't much. Over a decade later, Steve's family has never received a report from Border Patrol's Critical Incident Team and BPA Wong, the preliminary SDSO investigation report nor the DHS OIG investigation report.

In 2023, thirteen years later, I started researching and the family finally received the SDSO investigation by Deputy Hector Fuentes. The report makes clear that SDSO did not do any investigation other than to write down what Border Patrol agents told him happened and then he turned the case over to BPCIT BPA Wong. The following report is all the Keith family received on Steve's death in 2023.

San Diego Sheriff Department Homicide investigation into the death of Steven Brian Keith shows SDSO did a preliminary investigation and then turned the case over to Border Patrol Critical Incident Team Investigator Border Patrol Agent Tracey Wong who had neither the training nor the authority to conduct a homicide investigation.

According to the SDSO report, the timeline given by Border Patrol can be reconstructed as:

  • 12/24/2013

    • 11:20 pm - Steve begins to show signs of medical distress.

  • 12/25/2013

    • 12:38 am - Steve is pronounced dead by Dr. Whitman of Grossmont Hospital over the phone.

    • 12:51 am - SDSO Pine Valley/Boulevard notified of death.

    • 1:17 am - SDSO Deputy Hector Fuentes arrived at Campo Station

    • 1:40 am - SDSO Deputy Fuentes notified his immediate supervisor Sergeant Long and SDSO Homicide Sergeant P. Meza who declined to investigate stating that Border Patrol Critical Incident Team member BPA would handle the investigation.

    • 2:05 am - SDSO Deputy Fuentes speaks with San Diego County Medical Examiner to learn that Medical Examiner Investigator Angela Benefiel, would be handling the investigation.

SDSO Deputy Fuentes' report did not document what time Steve arrived at the checkpoint nor at the Campo Station. He failed to document the times of medical checks, any words said by Steve or agents involved, and most notably he failed to collect or even describe videos that existed from the checkpoint and from Steve's cell where he died. It is only from media reports that I learned Steve was allegedly arrested at the checkpoint nearly seven hours before he was reported to be in medical distress. Agents claimed Steve's medical distress was faked, and did not provide him with adequate care, and suddenly he died. Deputy Fuentes failed to secure any video from either facility.

Six days later, a local outlet interviewed Jan Keith. She stated that she and Steve grew up in Ocean Beach, CA. He was visiting Campo to see some friends on that fateful Christmas Eve. Jan

was a former police officer and said that it all seemed suspect to her. The San Diego County Medical Examiner refused to release the autopsy report for a full ninety days and simply gave Jan the number to the investigator in charge of her brother's case, San Diego Sector Border Patrol Critical Incident Team member BPA Tracey Wong. Jan stated that at the time, she was not aware that Border Patrol Critical incident Teams were not authorized by Congress and lacked any legal authority to be investigating her brother's death.

Jan did speak over the phone with Border Patrol's San Diego Sector Press Information Officer Pete Carr: “He said, ‘What is your brother’s name?’ And I said, ‘You are kidding right? How many people do you have die in your custody? You are the public information officer and you don’t know my brother’s name.’” Agent Carr further stated on December 29th, just 5 days after Steve's death that "neutral third parties are conducting that investigation," but this was not true. (See Massound Hayoun, U.S. Nationals ‘Under Siege’ Amid Border Patrol Checkpoint Death, AL JAZEERA AMERICA, Dec. 29, 2013. This article has been erased from the web. See screenshots below.)

Eventually, the San Diego Medical Examiner did release their report. Steve's death was officially listed as "methamphetamine intoxication." According to the examiner's report, Keith had significant amounts of methamphetamine in his blood and stomach and that this is likely what killed him though no baggie or balloon was found neither in his stomach nor intestines. The autopsy also reports that the medical examiner engaged with and listed on the report that the investigating agency assigned to the death was the "US Border Patrol" through Border Patrol Critical Incident Team member BPA "Tracey Wong."

County of San Diego Medical Examiner report on the death of Steven Brian Keith while in Border Patrol custody.

Also notable in the medical examiner's report is that Border Patrol agents admitted that Keith's behavior was odd. So, odd that they witnessed him fall and hit his head on a concrete bench in his cell. Agency paramedics and supervisors decided this did not cause him any harm and did not have him examined by a doctor or other medical professional. Agents stated he was observed being "fidgety" and that they thought he was having a "seizure," but then faked it. None of the trained personnel there that evening considered that he may have been having a typical reaction for methamphetamine toxicity even though they knew he had meth residue in his car.

Jan told me recently that she demanded to see the videos, but that BPA Wong told her those videos were property of the US Border Patrol and officially part of the investigation and would not be released because they were "law enforcement sensitive." Jan stated that the ACLU and a local San Diego attorney had attempted to get the records and videos, but that Border Patrol and the Critical Incident Team would not relent. In the end, Jan said she was told nothing could be done. She was never given a report of investigation by DHS OIG, SDSO, CBP nor Border Patrol. It took Steve's family thirteen years just to get the SDSO report that stated they did not do any investigation into Steve's death and that they in fact allowed Border Patrol's Critical Incident Team and BPA Wong to carry out the investigation although neither had the legal or congressional authority to do so.

To date, Jan has no idea why her brother died on Christmas Day in 2013. She has not been able to file a civil or criminal case because the Border Patrol has kept all the evidence from her family. The illegal and secret Border Patrol Critical Incident Teams have been placed under Customs and Border Protection in order to make them "legal," but there has never been any accountability to the Keith family and hundreds of others.

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