Woman Dies in Phoenix Airport-Was It Police Brutality or Just a Tragic Accident?
By Gerri Elder
Everyone has had their share of frustrations at the airport. From long lines to luggage difficulties to other cranky passengers, flying can be one of the most unpleasant methods of transportation we can experience. And since the terrorist attacks of September, 2001, the headaches of luggage restrictions, more time-consuming security checks and more stringent safety measures has made tempers even shorter among passengers trying to get to their planes on time.
But in the case of Carol Ann Gotbaum, of New York, getting upset at the airport led to far more frightening consequences than just a late suitcase or flustered airline passenger. After getting upset at airport officials for a late flight, she was arrested and taken to a cell where she died.
And family members are considering a wrongful death lawsuit against the Phoenix Police Department for excessive force when they arrested her and negligence for leaving her in the holding cell where she died.
At Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona, Gotbaum was running late for a US Airways flight. She arrived at the gate just too late to be boarded on the flight, and so US Airways re-booked her for the next flight, as it does typically in such cases. But this wasn't what Gotbaum wanted.
She started becoming irate with gate crew officials, yelling and screaming at them to let her on the flight. Security video reveals that she ran up and down the gate area, apparently yelling the entire time.
According to airport witnesses, Gotbaum was yelling things like, "I'm not a terrorist! I'm a sick mom! I need help!" Gotbaum was on her way to an alcohol rehabilitation facility when she was delayed.
At this point, police officers were brought on the scene to control her. They arrested her for disorderly conduct, and carried her away kicking and screaming in handcuffs. Then, according to police reports, she was left in a holding cell, where she continued her tirade. When officers checked on her a short time later, after she quieted down, she was non-responsive.
The mother of three had mysteriously died in the cell.
The authorities found her with the chain from the handcuffs pulled across her neck, and it is believed that she accidentally strangled herself while attempting to extricate herself from the shackles.
Of course, any time a prisoner dies, the police involved in the arrest face major scrutiny for how they handled the situation, and the Carol Ann Gotbaum case is no exception. The lawyer for the Gotbaum family has suggested that the family is looking into the issue of pressing charges for her treatment at the hands of police.
Firstly, according to the lawyer's comments, Gotbaum should not have been handcuffed in her "emotionally disturbed" state. Further, officers should not have left her unsupervised in such a state, which may have indirectly led to her untimely death.
"We understand that police intervention was appropriate," family lawyer Michael Manning was quoted in an ABC news report as saying. "But the means of intervention seems pretty outrageous."
The response by the Phoenix Police Department has been one of confusion, however, as they staunchly claim that the officers called to the scene handled the situation according to the book and that no police brutality was involved. Police officials maintain that the possibility of a prisoner choking herself accidentally is an extremely rare occurrence.
The officers did not leave Gotbaum alone longer than they should have, checking in on her ten minutes after they imprisoned her. Since Gotbaum was handcuffed from behind, the shackles would have been almost impossible for anyone to use to strangle themselves, even if they were extremely flexible or double-jointed.
Especially given the small size of the 110-pound woman, and the fact that she was chained to the bench in the holding cell, police are very reluctant to conclude that Gotbaum was able somehow to strangle herself, even though all the evidence points to it.
Certainly Gotbaum's behavior seemed to be that of someone who is not in a right state of mind, and the fact that she was headed to a treatment facility for alcoholism confirms that she needed help.
As the police and coroner continue investigation into what went wrong and if it could have been avoided, and as the family decides whether or not to sue the police department for excessive force or negligence, come back to Total Injury for more updates on the tragic situation and any legal results that follow!