Can we really buy this story that Carol Anne Gotbaum choked herself to death with her own handcuffs?
The autopsy of the 45-year-old New York mother of three who died in PHX police custody Friday at Sky Harbor is under way at the moment, according to David Boyer, Director of Maricopa County's Medical Examiner's office. A representative of Carol Anne Gotbaum's family is present. Boyer says he should know by noon whether or not a cause and manner of death will be determined today, or whether that will hold until toxicology reports are in.
Gotbaum was on her way to a rehab facility in Tucson, but missed her connecting flight at Sky Harbor, became distressed, and was arrested by PHX police for disorderly conduct. Handcuffed and shackled to a bench in a holding cell, the cops say somehow she managed to choke herself to death on her restraints when they weren't paying attention. Needless to say, Gotbaum's family ain't buying this line. Gotbaum's stepmother-in-law, NY City Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, who's next in line to the mayor's office after Hizzoner Michael Bloomberg, issued this statement on her city Web site:
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We are not jumping to any conclusions, but the circumstances surrounding Carol's death appear to be unusual enough to raise serious questions and warrant a thorough investigation. Carol, who was only five foot seven and one-hundred and five pounds, appears to have been manhandled by the Phoenix Police Department. She was a loving and devoted mother of three children under the age of nine who was on her way to an alcohol rehabilitation facility to seek treatment for herself. She cried out for help at the airport, but her pleas appear to have been met by mistreatment.
This story is all over the news nationally and is receiving major play in NYC, where Gotbaum's husband's family has long been politically influential. Needless to say, if Gotbaum's relations were not such big-time Knickerbockers, the PHX PD would likely not be in the hot seat to the degree it is now. Brass-knuckles PHX attorney Mike Manning has been retained by the Gotbaums, and his expertise is positional asphyxia, obviously relevant in this instance. He's successfully sued the office of Sheriff Joe Arpaio on many occasions, winning multimillion dollar verdicts. In other words, he ain't playin' tiddlywinks, pardner.
The more we learn about the nature of the restraints, the more it looks like officers fucked up by leaving Gotbaum alone in the hysterical condition she was in. Phoenix PD says she was handcuffed behind her back, with a 16-inch chain threaded through the cuffs, and Manning has said she was shackled to a bench. Hard to believe PHX cops would intentionally choke a little woman of less than 110 pounds to death. Still, it's almost as hard to believe that she could pull off the Houdini move necessary to strangle herself, unless she was some kind of contortionist.
More on this story as it develops.