10 05 2008

Family of woman who died after airport arrest sues Phoenix

By Chris Kahn

May 9, 2008

The Associated Press

http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5jtT6mK0J-jZRgOQhUl8y_McJ-GCwD90HS0OG3

Phoenix (AP) — The family of a New York woman who died in police custody at the Phoenix airport sued the city Thursday, accusing officers of using excessive force and contributing to her death.

Police spokesman Joel Tranter wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit, but the department has previously rejected claims that it was responsible for Carol Anne Gotbaum’s death.

Gotbaum, the step-daughter-in-law of New York City’s public advocate, died Sept. 28 in a police holding cell at Sky Harbor International Airport after being arrested for disorderly conduct. She was on her way by herself from New York to enter an alcohol treatment center in Tucson.

An autopsy report released by the Maricopa County medical examiner’s office concluded that Gotbaum accidentally hanged herself on her shackles while in the holding cell. The report said intoxication from alcohol and prescription drugs were contributing factors.

The lawsuit filed by Gotbaum’s family claims officers failed to follow department policies that would have kept her safe.

“If they followed their policies, Carol would be alive today,” family lawyer Michael Manning said.

The suit cited requirements to ask for medical attention for people believed to be sick or injured, to keep mentally or physically impaired prisoners in sight at all times and to use reasonable force when detaining people.

“They knew she was mentally and physically disabled, yet they took her to the ground, tackled her, handcuffed her, shackled her, and never during this episode did they call for medical input,” Manning said.

The lawsuit didn’t say how much money the family is seeking from the police department, but Manning filed an $8 million wrongful-death claim against the city in March.

A letter from the city’s legal department to Manning criticized Gotbaum’s family for blaming police.

In the March 26 letter, attorney Stephen Craig pointed out that the family knew of Gotbaum’s fragile mental state and her problems with alcohol. Still, Craig said, nobody accompanied her to the treatment program in Arizona.

Besides the city, the lawsuit also names the officers involved and Police Chief Jack Harris. It says the city and the police department have been “deliberately and callously indifferent to the care and safety of citizens” by allowing officers to be indifferent to people with medical conditions.

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