Woman Late For Plane Dies In Police Custody At Phoenix Airport
She was late for a plane. She started yelling. She was taken into police custody.
She was handcuffed. She was put in a cell.
And then she was dead.
Yes, there is an explanation for what happened, but it’s a shocker given the fact that she was the mother of three young children, from a prominent New York City family, and she’s said to have died in a way that will raise some eyebrows until the autopsy is done — or perhaps if the matter winds up in court as part of a lawsuit:
Phoenix police were investigating Sunday how a 45-year-old woman died over the weekend while in police custody at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport.
Carol Ann Gotbaum may have accidentally strangled herself while trying to get out of her handcuffs, Phoenix Police Department spokesman Sgt. Andy Hill said Saturday.
“According to investigators, it appeared as though Ms. Gotbaum had possibly tried to manipulate the handcuffs from behind her to the front, got tangled up in the process, and they ended up around her neck area,” he said.
Note the journalistic hedging. The use of the word “may” is in the report because that explanation is not perceived as being confirmed yet.
Witnesses told police that Gotbaum was “yelling and screaming” and running through the terminal Friday. She was arrested for disorderly conduct.
While handcuffed, the New Yorker became “disruptive” and she was taken to a holding room, where she was left alone, Hill told CNN affiliate KTVK.
Investigators said officers went to check on her five to 10 minutes later. Police policy requires that be done every 15 minutes.
Finding Gotbaum “unconscious and not breathing,” Hill said, officers performed CPR.
“Sometime during the time she went into custody, she went into medical distress,” he said.
She had three young children and was longtime New York City Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum’s daughter in law.
The New York Daily News has some details of the arrest (read the article in its entirety) such as:
The daughter-in-law of one of New York’s top officials screamed, “I’m not a terrorist!” and fought with security officials in the Phoenix airport before being wrestled to the ground and handcuffed, witnesses told the Daily News yesterday.
Carol Anne Gotbaum, 45, of the upper West Side, died less than an hour later, after cops claim she apparently strangled herself while trying to escape from the handcuffs in a holding cell at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
“I’m not a terrorist! I’m a sick mom! I need help!” yelled the mother of three after she missed the 2:58 p.m. US Airways Express flight to Tucson, said airport workers who witnessed the confrontation Friday.
They said one cop put his knee in her back to restrain her while others grabbed her flailing arms.
A late-arriving passenger become irate with airline workers was arrested at Phoenix Sky Harbor International and then died while in police custody. Police believe the woman â€“- 45-year-old Carol Ann Gotbaum -â€“ may have accidentally strangled herself while trying to escape from her handcuffs, which held her hands behind her back. Media accounts say police had to be called after Gotbaum become angry after she was denied boarding for her US Airways flight after she arrived at the gate past the flight’s boarding cutoff.
The Arizona Republic writes “she was rebooked on the next flight, but witnesses told police that Gotbaum got irate and began running through the terminal. Officers said they were unable to calm Gotbaum, so they arrested her and placed her in an individual holding room.” She apparently forcefully resisted being handcuffs and screamed continually while in the holding room,” according to the Republic. Officers went to check on Gotbaum after the screaming stopped and found her “unresponsive,” according to The Associated Press, which adds that medics were not able to revive her. Authorities say neither a Taser stun gun nor pepper spray were used in the incident.
The New York Post reports that Phoenix police say they’re shocked:
“In my 23 years, I have not come across something like this before,” said Sgt. Andy Hill, a Phoenix police spokesman.
The way she died means this story will have “legs” for awhile until there is complete confirmation of a) the cause of death b) whether this kind of contortion is possible. And the family is hiring a lawyer:
Betsy Gotbaum would not say why Carol Anne, the wife of her stepson, was in Phoenix or answer other questions about her.
“Carol was a wonderful, wonderful person. She was a wonderful mother. She was sweet, kind and loving,” Gotbaum told reporters across the street from her Manhattan apartment building.
“This is a horrible tragedy for my family – for my stepson and my three grandchildren,” she added. “This is obviously very, very difficult for us. We are dealing with it as best we can.”
The family is hiring a lawyer in Phoenix to look into the matter, a source close to the family said last night.
And the status of the family ensures this is a case that will not simply be entered into the police blotter but will be looked at very closely by not only the attorney but by news media in New York and elsewhere.
The dead woman was the wife of investor Noah Gotbaum. And Noah Gotbaum is the son of Victor Gotbaum, 86, one of New York’s most influential labor leaders.
And there will be other reasons why this story will be a huge print and broadcast story as well because American culture and the imprinting of images isn’t what it was 30 years ago. So, across the nation, some eyebrows — rightfully or wrongfully — are going to be raised.
Americans have now seen more than a decade of Cops TV shows so they’ve watched “take downs” of clear offenders, or a few cases that seemed marginal. American culture is now impacted by the fact of life of heavy security at airports and the fact it’s no nonsense. Most people (unless you’re a student with a fake bomb taped to your chest) realize you don’t joke around in airports or give officials trouble.
And America and young people are also impacted by event such as the Florida student being tasered, that show that there are instances where the “swarm” technique seemingly escalates things.
So it’s a story that will be covered intently for a while — and scrutinized in painstaking detail by the media which knows there is huge interest…and scrutinized in painstaking detail by attorneys who will seek to determine precisely what led to a mother of three young children who lost it in an airport to wind up dead due to handcuffs in a jail cell.