The family of Carol Anne Gotbaum hoped an autopsy in Phoenix Tuesday would shed more light on how the mother of three died while handcuffed in a police holding cell, after an outburst at the airport led to her arrest for disorderly conduct.
The Maricopa Medical Examiner's office said the examination — which was conducted Tuesday morning with a family member present — would last at least two hours. There was no word on results by afternoon, but the autopsy could determine how a trip to an alcohol rehab facility ended in death for the 45-year-old New Yorker. Toxicology and other tests might be needed to reach a final conclusion about what happened.
A man who said he was an eyewitness to the scene at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix told the local FOX station there that Gotbaum repeatedly screamed, "I'm not a terrorist!" into a cell phone after gate crews refused to let her aboard her Tucson, Ariz.-bound flight on Friday, reportedly because of her late arrival.
The witness, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Gotbaum became so upset that she threw her phone down and broke it. Others in the airport were alarmed and rattled by her behavior, according to the witness.
On Monday, Gotbaum's stepmother-in-law Betsy Gotbaum, New York City's public advocate, issued a statement saying the family believes Carol Anne seems to have been "manhandled" by Phoenix police during her arrest — and that might have contributed to her mysterious death.
"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 authorities told FOXNews.com that the Gotbaums have the right to their opinions but didn't address the specific accusations the family made about how police treated Gotbaum in custody.
"They're entitled to express whatever they want. They’re grieving; we understand that," said Phoenix police spokesman Sgt. Andy Hill. "However, the investigation will reveal what happened, and that’s what we’re waiting for."
Gotbaum was taken into custody for disorderly conduct Friday at Sky Harbor International Airport after reportedly becoming irate and out of control when she couldn’t get on her flight.
Several witnesses reported that Gotbaum was “yelling and screaming and running around the concourse” before Phoenix police stationed on-site got there, according to Hill. The two officers who arrived on the scene were unsuccessful in calming her down, so they handcuffed her and took her to a holding cell in their bureau at the airport.
Gotbaum continued to scream and yell in the department holding cell — where she was locked up alone, according to Hill. 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 FOXNews.com.
He said Gotbaum was discovered with her arms raised and her handcuffs “pressed up against her neck area,” adding that it’s not unusual for people in wrist shackles at the back to maneuver their hands around to the front.
Officers didn’t use a Taser or pepper spray in Gotbaum’s arrest, according to police, and policy prohibits video cameras in holding cells — so there were no eyewitnesses to her death.
“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 alcohol, illegal drugs or other medication or whether she suffered from any conditions aside from alcoholism.
Betsy Gotbaum said Sunday that her stepdaughter-in-law was “sweet and kind and loving.”
The Gotbaum family hired high-profile lawyer Michael Manning to do his own investigation into Carol Anne's death. Manning, who represented the U.S. government against failed savings and loan executive Charles Keating, has won settlements against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in past wrongful-death lawsuits.
He said the family hasn't decided whether to sue Phoenix police.
"We're not going to jump to any conclusions without any evidence," he said. "We want to see what the autopsy reveals. We want to see what exactly happened to her."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.