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Video shows woman's scuffle with police, arrest before airport death

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Husband called airport saying his wife was suicidal, police report says
  • Video shows woman apparently yelling before officers approach her
  • Several officers surround her, and she drops to the floor
  • Carol Ann Gotbaum died in custody September 28
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PHOENIX, Arizona (CNN) -- Police on Thursday released a video showing officers arresting a 45-year-old New York woman at Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport just before she died while handcuffed in a holding cell.

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

Authorities also gave a more complete account of Carol Ann Gotbaum's arrest, detention and death September 28.

Police have said she apparently strangled herself as she tried to maneuver her way out of handcuffs that were secured behind her back.

According to the police report, Gotbaum's husband, Noah, called the airport several times that night, 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 claimed his wife's body in Phoenix Thursday after an autopsy. The body was set to be returned to New York on Thursday night, according to Michael Manning, a Phoenix attorney whom Gotbaum's family has retained.

Police said in a Wednesday statement they did attempt to calm an irate Gotbaum before arresting her. And they said they had no idea of her "personal issues," including that she was on her way to check into an alcohol treatment center. Video Watch Gotbaum appear to yell as officers handcuff her at the airport »

Police spokesman Sgt. Andy Hill told reporters Thursday there were indications that alcohol may have played a role in the incident, although toxicology tests administered during the autopsy would determine that. Results of such tests typically take several 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 gate 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.

Although the video contained no audio, 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 incident.

In the video, a Transportation Security Administration officer approached and spoke with Gotbaum, followed by three police officers. While speaking with them, Gotbaum waved her arms. She backed away from an officer who reached for her, and she became combative before dropping to the ground.

As officers were on the ground with Gotbaum attempting to handcuff her, she continued to scream profanities, Polombo said.

The video showed police eventually bringing Gotbaum to her feet and walking with her, although she continued to pull away. She can be seen locking her legs, forcing the officers to drag her.

Officers did not need to use pepper spray or a Taser device on Gotbaum, Hill said. "She did not bite or kick or hit any of the officers. She was just resisting [arrest]."

Gotbaum was placed in a holding room at the airport and searched by a female officer but "continued to be uncooperative," the police statement said. According to the 108-page police report on the incident, also released Thursday, Gotbaum told authorities she was a "depressed, pathetic housewife."

"In the holding room, there is a bench with an 'eyehook' on it. The officers took a 'shackle,' which is described as a metal chain, approximately 16 inches long, with a large 'handcuff' on each side. The total length of the chain with handcuffs is approximately 24 inches," the statement said.

"One of the handcuffs on the 'shackle' was attached to the 'eyehook' on the bench. The other handcuff of the shackle was attached to the chain of the handcuffs that were already on Ms. Gotbaum's hands.

"So 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."

Gotbaum was not deemed a threat to herself or others, the police statement said. If she had been, she would have been monitored by an officer. Phoenix police policy is that prisoners can be left alone in holding rooms as long as they are checked every 15 minutes.

Hill told reporters Thursday that Gotbaum was left alone for six or eight minutes. Police previously had said it was 15 or 20 minutes.

After officers left, she continued to scream, the police statement said. However, police checked on her when she fell silent and found her unconscious. Gotbaum was found sitting on the floor, with her head on the bench and the handcuffs under her chin, the police report said.

"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 CPR, a defibrillator and other measures in attempts to save her life. A police officer said in the police report that Gotbaum vomited while CPR was being performed on her and that when she did, he could smell alcohol. Gotbaum was pronounced dead by firefighters who arrived shortly afterward.

"Officers had no information ... that Ms. Gotbaum had traveled unescorted" from New York City to Phoenix "in order to seek treatment for a substance abuse issue," the statement said. "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."

According to the police report, Noah Gotbaum called the airport communications division several times trying to reach the airport police or his wife, whom he described as suicidal. He told an operator that his wife got bumped off a flight, according to a transcript, and "the last thing I heard was she was screaming into the telephone."

"This is a medical emergency," Noah Gotbaum said in another call. "They're not dealing with some lout who's just drank too much on an airplane. That's not what's going on here."

Hill said Thursday that police are aware of no policy violations, but he said the incident remains under investigation, as any in-custody death would be.

Manning has previously said Gotbaum had an "emotional reaction" after she was not allowed to board her flight. He said the family has not decided whether to take legal action against police. It's unclear why Gotbaum was not allowed to board the plane.

About 200,000 people travel through Sky Harbor Airport daily, Hill said, and police receive three to five calls a day regarding irate passengers.

However, he said, so far this year only 265 people have been arrested, 14 of them for disorderly conduct.


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

Gotbaum, the mother of three young children, lived in New York. She was the daughter-in-law of longtime New York City public advocate Betsy Gotbaum, who called her "a wonderful, wonderful person." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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