Doc: Cops Also To Blame For Airport Death

This undated family photo provided by the Office of the Public Advocate for the City of New York shows Carol Anne Gotbaum. Gotbaum, 45, was found dead in a police holding cell in Phoenix, Ariz. on Friday, Sept. 28, 2007, where she had been taken in handcuffs after being arrested at an airport, authorities and relatives said.
AP/Office of NYC Public Advocate
A private pathologist hired by the family of the New York public advocate's stepdaughter-in-law, who died in police custody at the city's airport, said Monday that she accidentally strangled herself - but he also blamed police for her death.

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 according to the Phoenix medical examiner, she died from asphyxiation due to hanging. But Wecht says that's not what happened.

"There is an absence of any linear marking around the neck. There's one small abrasion on the right side. There was no ligature of any kind," Wecht told The Early Show. "There was no suspension of the body as reported by the police."

Wecht agreed the cause of the death was asphyxiation, but that it was related to many things -- the frenetic, erratic behavior, the expenditure of a huge amount of energy, the rapid heart beat, the increased blood pressure, the need for more oxygen.

"This lady did have alcohol. She had two antidepressants. These three drugs acting in concert depressed central nervous system activity and thereby heart and lung function," Wecht told The Early Show. "So, at a time that her body needs more oxygen, she is actually getting less."

"She is placed in this holding cell, and manacled behind her back. She uses up a lot of energy to extricate herself from that situation, and then in doing so ultimately collapses."

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."

"That insensitivity, that crude, rude, brutal, aggressive treatment, are directly responsible for her death," he 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, stepdaughter-in-law of Betsy Gotbaum.

"The moment they knew she was under medical distress, they made every effort to try and save her life," including CPR, Hill said.

The police department is reviewing its procedures to see whether any policy changes are needed.

Gotbaum's relatives have 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.

"They did not notice her until she had already collapsed, and she then was in extremis," Wecht told The Early Show. "She was treated as if she were some kind of a terrorist, which of course she was not."