OC Jail Deaths: One Family's Story

Keith Eric Files' family and friends say they know why he died while in county custody

As it turned out, instead of looking for a job, Files had immediately gone back to using drugs. He spent the Thanksgiving holiday under a pier in Newport Beach. Brooke happened to be in Texas at the time, visiting her mom. On Nov. 28, Keith called his father, who brought him back to the Roque Center to fetch his belongings. The following day, Keith planned to tell his probation officer he'd relapsed, knowing he'd be sent straight to jail to serve another several-months sentence for violating his probation on a 2009 burglary and identity-theft conviction.

Christian says she was relieved Files was still alive when she saw him that day. "I was so frightened something had happened to him," she says. "He said he was going to jail. He was kind of worried about that."

It was clear to her Files was high. "He wasn't incoherent or anything, but his eyes were pinched," she continued. "He told me he took 25 10-milligram pills of methadone, and that breaks down slowly in your body. He had quite a history of substance abuse, but he had been sober for a few months, and to all of a sudden get loaded like that?"

Brooke Files says she spoke to her brother Keith 17 hours before he died
Mary Bell
Brooke Files says she spoke to her brother Keith 17 hours before he died

Christian adds that Files told her that he intended to smuggle more methadone in with him. "He also was planning on packing some . . . when he went in. That's pretty common."

After saying goodbye to Christian, Keith called his sister one last time. "I got a voice mail," she says. "When I heard it, I just had a really bad feeling. He didn't mention jail or anything. He just said, 'Give me a call back. I really want to talk to you.'" When she returned the call, Keith asked her to promise to pick him up when he finished serving his sentence. "He didn't want me to be upset. He told me he'd be fine."

Seventeen hours later, Files was discovered lifeless in his cell. Neither OCSD nor OCDA officials would comment on Files' death specifically. However, OCSD spokesman John McDonald said that inmates in the medical ward are checked either every 15 minutes or every hour, depending upon whether they are under "safety observation."

Brooke says sheriff's officials told her that her brother had been placed in the jail's medical ward. "I don't think he was checked on," she says. "I think it was neglect. I think they found him dead the next morning and tried to resuscitate a dead person to cover their ass. They shouldn't have left him alone."

Despite her pain—she says she almost relapsed after Keith died—Brooke feels compelled to share her brother's story. "This is not an attempt to bring my brother back," she explains. "This is a fight for other addicts who are suffering, so they can get the help they need, and so no other family has to go through this."

This article appeared in print as "Dying Inside: Family and friends of inmate Keith Eric Files say they know why he died in his Orange County jail cell."

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