Family Awaits Autopsy in Airport Death
Tuesday, October 2, 2007; 2:12 AM
PHOENIX -- The family of a woman who died after being detained at the Phoenix airport has hired an attorney to monitor the police investigation into her death and is sending a representative to her autopsy.
Carol Anne Gotbaum's family accuse police of manhandling the 5-foot-7-inch woman when they arrested her Friday.
Authorities have said Gotbaum, who was handcuffed and shackled to a bench, may have accidentally strangled herself. An autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday, although results weren't expected for a few weeks, said David Boyer, acting director of the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office.
Gotbaum, 45, was headed to an alcohol treatment program in Tucson, Ariz., when officers arrested her for disorderly conduct. Police said she was late for a flight and became angry when a gate crew didn't let her on the plane. Officers handcuffed her behind her back and took her to a holding room, where she kept screaming, authorities said.
Gotbaum "appears to have been manhandled by the Phoenix Police Department," said Betsy Gotbaum, the victim's stepmother-in-law and New York City's public advocate. "She cried out for help at the airport, but her pleas appear to have been met by mistreatment."
Police spokesman Sgt. Andy Hill said officers placed Gotbaum in a room without a surveillance camera. After about five to 10 minutes, officers no longer could hear her voice and went to check on her. Gotbaum was found unconscious with her hands "pressed against her neck area," Hill said.
Gotbaum had been shackled to a bench as well as handcuffed, Hill said.
Hill said officers followed established policy while detaining Gotbaum. He added that police procedures for arresting someone at the airport haven't changed since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
"Everything, so far that we know, is according to policy," Hill said.
The Phoenix Police Department's Professional Standards Bureau is conducting an internal investigation, a standard procedure following an in-custody death.
Gotbaum's family hired attorney Michael Manning to monitor the investigation.
Manning said it doesn't seem possible she could have killed herself.
"It doesn't make any sense," he said. "She was handcuffed behind her back and shackled to a table. It doesn't make sense that she could have physically managed to strangle herself."
Manning, a high-profile lawyer who represented the government against failed savings and loan executive Charles Keating, has previously won settlements against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in wrongful-death lawsuits.
He said the family hasn't decided whether it should file a lawsuit against Phoenix police.
"We're not going to jump to any conclusions without any evidence," he said. "We want to see what the autopsy reveals. We want to see what exactly happened to her."