A woman who died in police custody during an airport layover was intoxicated on a potent mix of alcohol and antidepressants and accidentally strangled herself on her shackles, an autopsy released Friday concludes.
The Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office said Carol Anne Gotbaum, 45, of New York, was acutely intoxicated on alcohol and prescription drugs when she died in a police holding room at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on Sept. 28.
Gotbaum's blood-alcohol level of .24 percent was three times Arizona's legal limit of .08 for driving. The official cause of death was hanging, the report concluded, adding she had a history of "use of antidepressant medications with intoxication."
Police said in a statement Friday the autopsy report "substantiates" the findings of investigators on the cause of death, supporting the department's position that "officers acted appropriately and there was no misconduct during this tragic incident."
Gotbaum had been arrested on a disorderly conduct charge after she was kept off a connecting flight that was to bring her to Tucson, where she was to enter an alcohol treatment center.
She was handcuffed and shackled to a bench in the holding room. Police have said they followed proper procedures when dealing with her.
Gotbaum was arrested after becoming irate with gate crews who refused to allow her to board a plane. After realizing she missed her flight, Gotbaum used profanity and said, "I'm not a terrorist."
Before her arrest, she was seen on surveillance video running through an airport terminal, bowing abruptly as she appeared to yell and resisting arrest as three officers try to control her. Once handcuffed in the terminal, Gotbaum locked her legs as officers held her by the arms and pushed the still-standing woman through the terminal.
Officers checked on Gotbaum minutes after she stopped screaming, and found her with the chain and handcuffs, which had been behind her back, around her neck area.
Efforts to revive her failed.
Gotbaum had about 35 bruises on her neck, arms and legs, including her knees and elbows, and scrapes, according to the autopsy report. Her neck injuries included "chain impressions," said the report, with police saying they found her handcuffed hands next to her neck.
The .24 percent blood-alcohol level by itself wasn't fatal but could have made her unconscious and unable to extricate herself from the accidental hanging, said a pathology expert who reviewed the autopsy report at the request of The Associated Press.
"She's certainly acutely alcohol intoxicated," said Dr. Jonathan Arden, a former medical examiner and currently a pathology consultant working in McLean, Va.
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