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Woman detained at Phoenix airport dies in custody

October 11th, 2007

Forty-five-year-old wife and mother Carol Ann Gothaum died in a holding room of the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport after being arrested on charges of disturbing the peace.

Gothaum was traveling from her hometown of New York City to Tuscon, Arizona when she was laid over in Phoenix. Having missed her 2:58 P.M. connecting flight, she began to argue with the on-duty gate attendant.

According to police reports, she became combative, and after nearly striking a person with her handheld PDA, left the gate area and entered the concourse. Witnesses say the police apprehended her there, struggling and screaming, “I am not a terrorist.”
Gothaum was placed in a holding room with her hands handcuffed behind her back and shackled to prevent her from moving from the bench. She continued to scream for another six to eight minutes, and then suddenly fell silent.

She was unconscious when the police checked on her. Phoenix police statements said, “initial information indicates that Ms. Gothaum had somehow worked the handcuffs to the front of her body, probably from under her legs, and had pulled the chain from the shackle across her neck area.” Attempts to revive Gothaum proved futile.
According to Phoenix police policy, detainees can be left in holding rooms alone, as long as they are checked on every 15 minutes. No security cameras are permitted inside the rooms in order to protect the individual’s privacy.

Gothaum was flying to Tuscon with the intention of entering an alcohol rehabilitation center. Her husband, Noah Gothaum, claims the situation was a “medical emergency,” not a case of “some lout whose just drank too much.” Nevertheless, toxicology tests were administered during the autopsy, but it could take several weeks to get the results.

Gothaum also is said to have called the airport several times within the course of the day to explain to the authorities the circumstances involving his wife, describing her as suicidal and telling authorities that she should not be left alone.
Sergeant Andy Hill of the Phoenix Police maintains that officers were not informed of Gothaum’s personal issues at the time of her arrest.

The police have not been made aware of any policy violations. According to CNN security analyst, Mike Brooks, “It looks like they did everything they could to calm her down, and then she was still combative. We didn’t see any use of any TASER, no pepper spray, and, in my opinion, no excessive force was used here.”

However, Michael Manning, a Phoenix lawyer representing the family, maintains, “the family has not reached a conclusion as to whether her care and treatment were inappropriate, but the circumstances were highly unusual.” Investigation of the death continues.
Gothaum claimed his wife’s body after the autopsy in Phoenix and returned her to New York for the funeral. They have three children.