Image: Carol Ann Gotbaum
Carol Anne 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.
updated 11/9/2007 6:06:39 PM ET 2007-11-09T23:06:39

A woman who died in police custody during an airport layover was intoxicated on a potent mix of alcohol and antidepressants and accidentally strangled herself on her shackles, an autopsy released Friday concludes.

The Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office said Carol Anne Gotbaum, 45, of New York, was acutely intoxicated on alcohol and prescription drugs when she died in a police holding room at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Sept. 28.

Gotbaum's blood-alcohol level of .24 percent was three times Arizona's legal limit of .08 for driving. The official cause of death was hanging, the report concluded, adding she had a history of "use of antidepressant medications with intoxication."

A private autopsy conducted for Gotbaum's prominent New York family has not been completed.

The family has accused police of mistreating Gotbaum, a mother of three, and an attorney for the family said the autopsy report didn't change the family's position that Gotbaum was obviously in medical distress and shouldn't have been left unattended.

"She died as a result of being put in that holding tank, shackled to a bench and then left alone without anyone to observe her until she died," said attorney Michael Manning.

He acknowledged that Gotbaum "drank excessively at the airport."

Gotbaum's husband, Noah Gotbaum, called the airport three times the afternoon of her death, telling officials he was concerned about his wife's whereabouts because she was depressed and suicidal. However, she was already dead when he called police.

Manning said the family wants to talk to the city about police procedures. The family has not ruled out a lawsuit but want "an apology by the city for what happened at a minimum," he said.

Police said in a statement Friday the autopsy report "substantiates" the findings of investigators on the cause of death, supporting the department's position that "officers acted appropriately and there was no misconduct during this tragic incident."

The police department is still completing its own investigation of police procedures and whether any policy changes are necessary.

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Gotbaum had been arrested on a disorderly conduct charge after she was kept off a connecting flight that was to bring her to Tucson, where she was to enter an alcohol treatment center. After realizing she missed her flight, Gotbaum used profanity and said, "I'm not a terrorist."

Before her arrest, she was seen on surveillance video running through an airport terminal, bowing abruptly as she appeared to yell and resisting arrest as three officers try to control her. Once handcuffed in the terminal, Gotbaum locked her legs as officers held her by the arms and pushed the still-standing woman through the terminal.

She was handcuffed and shackled to a bench in the holding room.

Officers checked on Gotbaum minutes after she stopped screaming, and found her with the chain and handcuffs, which had been behind her back, around her neck area.

Efforts to revive her failed.

Gotbaum had about 35 bruises on her neck, arms and legs, including her knees and elbows, and scrapes, according to the autopsy report. Her neck injuries included "chain impressions," said the report, with police saying they found her handcuffed hands next to her neck.

The .24 percent blood-alcohol level by itself wasn't fatal but could have made her unconscious and unable to extricate herself from the accidental hanging, said a pathology expert who reviewed the autopsy report at the request of The Associated Press.

"She's certainly acutely alcohol intoxicated," said Dr. Jonathan Arden, a former medical examiner and currently a pathology consultant working in McLean, Va.

Carol Gotbaum was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and worked as a department store buyer in London before moving to New York with her husband.

Noah Gotbaum is the son of a prominent New York labor leader and stepson of Betsy Gotbaum, the city's public advocate, an elected position that involves helping improve services to citizens.

Associated Press writer Terry Tang contributed to this report.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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