New York Politician Says Stepdaughter-in-Law 'Manhandled' by Phoenix Police Before She Died

The family of Carol Anne Gotbaum said Monday that the mother of three appears to have been "manhandled" by Phoenix police when she was arrested and handcuffed for disorderly conduct at the Phoenix airport — and that contributed to her mysterious death in a holding cell.

Gotbaum's stepmother-in-law, New York City Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, also revealed that her stepson's 45-year-old wife was on her way to rehab for alcoholism treatment when the tragedy happened.

"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 5'7" tall and 105 pounds, appears to have been manhandled by the Phoenix Police Department," Betsy Gotbaum said in a statement released Monday afternoon.

"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."

Phoenix police and the Gotbaum family were awaiting an autopsy report that could determine how Carol Anne died while handcuffed. The Maricopa County Medical Examiner's office said Monday that the exam had been rescheduled for Tuesday morning at the request of the family.

"They want to have a representative there," Dave Boyer, acting director of the medical examiner's office, told "We should have at least a tentative result by tomorrow. If the doctor has a cause and manner, we'll release it. If we're awaiting toxicology results, we'd let you know."

The autopsy examination could take up to a couple of hours, Boyer said.

Gotbaum had been taken into custody for disorderly conduct Friday at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix after reportedly becoming irate and out of control when she couldn’t get on her flight.

Several witnesses reported that 45-year-old Gotbaum was “yelling and screaming and running around the concourse” before Phoenix police, who have a bureau at the airport, got there, Sgt. Andy Hill told The two officers who arrived on the scene were unsuccessful in calming her down, so they took her into custody for disorderly conduct, he said.

Gotbaum continued to scream and yell in the department holding cell — where she was locked up alone, according to Hill, a Phoenix police spokesman. When she stopped shouting after about five or 10 minutes, officers became concerned, checked on her and found her unresponsive, he said. Efforts to revive her failed.

“No one knows what happened yet. All I know is the way she was found,” Hill told “She was handcuffed behind her back and somehow she got them up around her neck area.”

He said Gotbaum was discovered with her arms up and her handcuffs “pressed up against her neck area,” and added that it’s not unusual for people handcuffed at the back to maneuver their hands around to the front.

Police didn’t use a Taser or pepper spray in Gotbaum’s arrest, according to Hill, and policy prohibits video cameras in holding cells — so there were no eyewitnesses to her death.

The Maricopa County Medical Examiner was conducting an autopsy into the cause and manner of death, but there was no word on when pathologists would have the results.

“According to investigators, it appeared as though Ms. Gotbaum had possibly tried to manipulate the handcuffs from behind her to the front, got tangled up in the process, and they ended up around her neck area,” Hill wrote in the police press release on the incident. “She went into medical distress, where she lost consciousness. Again, this is a possible explanation only from investigators, and the medical examiner will have to make a determination as to the manner and cause of death.”

It wasn’t immediately known whether Gotbaum was under the influence of any medication, illegal drugs or alcohol, or whether she had any mental problems. Hill said the autopsy report and the family would hopefully help fill in the blanks, but police were refraining from speculating until the investigation was complete.

“Was she under the influence of drugs and alcohol? Was she not under the influence of drugs and alcohol? Was it intentional? Was it accidental?” Hill said, making a check-list of what the autopsy and investigation would look into. “We know there were some issues because she was screaming and running around the concourse.”

The chief of staff for Betsy Gotbaum, who held a brief news conference on Sunday in which she called her stepdaughter-in-law a “wonderful” woman, said Monday that the family had spent the past 24 hours telling Carol Anne’s three children about their mother’s death.

“We have no further information at this time,” Anat Gerstein told

Betsy Gotbaum said Sunday that her stepdaughter-in-law was “sweet and kind and loving.”

Carol Anne Gotbaum wasn’t allowed to board her US Airways Express flight to Tucson Friday because she arrived late, according to a report in The Arizona Republic newspaper. She was booked on another flight, but witnesses and airport workers told police that she got into an argument with gate crews and began running through the concourse yelling. She was arrested in Terminal 4.

Hill said police didn’t know that Carol Anne Gotbaum was from a prominent New York City family and treated her the way they would have anyone else arrested for disorderly conduct.

Only 24 hours earlier, police had revived someone with a defibrillator who had gone into cardiac arrest at the airport, according to Hill.

“The officers had just saved a life the night before,” Hill said. “And then tragedy struck.”