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Husband called airport on day wife died in cell

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Family attorney says woman may have been drinking before arrest
  • Husband called airport saying his wife was suicidal, police report says
  • Video shows woman apparently yelling before officers approach her
  • Carol Ann Gotbaum, 45, dies in custody September 28 at Phoenix airport
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PHOENIX, Arizona (CNN) -- Noah Gotbaum told a Phoenix airport operator that his wife was distraught after being bumped from a flight and that her situation was a "medical emergency," not a case of "some lout who's just drank too much."

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Video shows Carol Ann Gotbaum being arrested at a Phoenix airport shortly before she died while in custody.

His wife, Carol Ann Gotbaum, died in a police holding cell at the airport, apparently strangling herself as she tried to maneuver her way out of handcuffs that were secured behind her back.

Police have released a video showing officers arresting the 45-year-old woman at Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport just before she died on September 28.

Phoenix Police Sgt. Andy Hill said: "Officers had no information ... that Ms. Gotbaum had traveled unescorted and alone from New York City to Phoenix, Arizona, in order to seek treatment for a substance abuse issue.

"The officers had no knowledge of any of Ms. Gotbaum's personal issues. They had not been apprised of any calls from the family to the airport seeking to locate Ms. Gotbaum."

Michael Manning, a Phoenix attorney whom Gotbaum's family has retained, told CNN Gotbaum was calm, sober, and committed to alcohol treatment when she arrived at the Phoenix airport that day.

"By the time she reached the gate and found out she was denied boarding, she had a very, very strong emotional reaction to that, and we believe that that wasn't just a result of her being upset because of her determination to get well. We believe she may have been drinking," Manning said.

According to the police report released Thursday, Gotbaum's husband, Noah, called the airport several times that day, trying to reach his wife or the airport police, telling them they didn't know the circumstances involving his wife, whom he described as suicidal.

Noah Gotbaum on Thursday claimed his wife's body in Phoenix after an autopsy, and the body was to be returned to New York.

In a statement Wednesday, police said they attempted to calm an irate Gotbaum before arresting her. They also said authorities had no idea of her "personal issues," including her plans to check into an alcohol treatment center.

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Sgt. Hill said Thursday that there were indications alcohol may have played a role in the incident. Toxicology tests administered during the autopsy would determine if that were the case, but results of such tests typically take weeks.

Gotbaum, who was flying through Phoenix on her way to Tucson, became angry when she was denied access to her flight and argued with a gate attendant, police said.

According to the police statement, Gotbaum "became agitated and loud" and threw her hand-held PDA, which shattered after narrowly missing a person. She then left the gate area, but the attendant summoned police.

The video showed Gotbaum after she apparently had just left the gate area. She was by herself, standing in the middle of a concourse, doubled over, and she seemed to be screaming. Video Watch how the arrest video answers some questions, raises others »

The video contains no audio, but witnesses -- including a federal police officer -- said Gotbaum was "screaming at the top of her lungs, 'I'm not a terrorist, I'm not a terrorist,' " according to Sgt. Mike Polombo, who is investigating the death.

In the video, Gotbaum backs away from an officer who reaches for her, and she becomes combative before dropping to the ground. With officers on the ground attempting to handcuff her, she continues to scream profanities, Polombo said.

Gotbaum was placed in a holding room, and a female officer searched her, but she "continued to be uncooperative," the police statement said.

"Ms. Gotbaum was handcuffed with her hands behind her back, and additionally those handcuffs were attached to a shackle that kept her attached to the bench," the report says.

Phoenix police policy is that prisoners can be left alone in holding rooms as long as they are checked every 15 minutes. Department policy bans cameras in holding rooms to protect detainees' privacy.

After officers left, Gotbaum continued to scream, the police statement said. However, police checked on her when she fell silent and found her unconscious.

"Initial information ... indicated that Ms. Gotbaum had somehow worked the handcuffs to the front of her body, probably from under her legs, and had pulled the chain from the shackle across her neck area," the statement said.

Officers used cardiopulmonary resuscitation, a defibrillator and other measures in futile attempts to save her life. Firefighters arrived and pronounced Gotbaum dead.

The officers involved "are still very upset about what happened," Hill said. "They did everything they could to save Ms. Gotbaum."

Hill said police are not aware of any policy violations, but he said the death remains under investigation, as any in-custody death would be.

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CNN security analyst Mike Brooks, a law enforcement veteran, said it appeared from the video that Phoenix police did everything by the book.

"It looks like they did everything they could to calm her down, and then she was still combative," Brooks said. "We didn't see any use of any TASER, no pepper spray, and in my opinion, no excessive force was used here." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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