Dr. Cyril Wecht agreed with a medical examiner's earlier report that an intoxicated Carol Anne Gotbaum accidentally strangled herself on her shackles in a holding room at Sky Harbor International Airport on Sept. 28.
But Wecht also said officers roughed up the 45-year-old mother of three, who was flying from New York to an alcohol treatment center in Tucson, and said they should have watched her as she sat in the holding room alone, screaming.
"This is a person who cries out for medical care, attention, appraisal, evaluation, appropriate treatment," Wecht told The Associated Press. "Anyone with a modicum of training would know this."
Wecht said Gotbaum's symptoms and behavior might have indicated any number of problems.
"That kind of erratic behavior has a differential diagnosis in medicine of many things - too much sugar, too little sugar, brain bleed in or around the brain, endocrine, metabolic causes, pulmonary function," Wecht said on CBS News' The Early Show.
"She was treated cruelly, as if she were some kind of a terrorist, which of course she was not," Wecht said.
Wecht said he sent his findings to family lawyer Michael Manning.
Police spokesman Sgt. Andy Hill said officers followed proper procedures when they arrested Gotbaum, the step-daughter-in-law of New York City's public advocate.
"The moment they knew she was under medical distress, they made every effort to try and save her life," including CPR, Hill said. The department is reviewing its procedures to see whether any policy changes are needed.
"They did not notice her until she had already collapsed, and she then was in extremis," Wecht Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm.
Gotbaum's family has accused police of mistreating her. They have not decided whether to sue police, but the Maricopa County medical examiner's report "makes it more likely they'll make a claim," Manning said.
The government autopsy report "says she was obviously sick before she went into the room, and she was left unattended with a 20-inch chain, and she asphyxiated on that chain," Manning said.
The attorney said Phoenix police did not act appropriately. Local and national police standards call for officers to notify medical authorities when they're arresting someone who appears physically or mentally ill - not after the person is in custody and unconscious, he said.
"It doesn't appear that they did" notify medical authorities in time, Manning said. "If they don't do that, if they make that mistake, then they're not supposed to leave that person shackled up and unobserved."
A government autopsy said that Gotbaum was intoxicated on alcohol and prescription antidepressants, and that her blood-alcohol level was 0.24 percent - three times Arizona's legal limit of 0.08 for driving while intoxicated.
Gotbaum became enraged when the gate crew didn't let her on the plane to Tucson, police said. In the holding room, she was found unconscious with the handcuffs up around her neck.
"Even up to the point when she has stepped out of the handcuffs and brought them in front of her, had she been observed even up to that point, her life would have been saved," Wecht said.