Monday, October 08, 2007

The Strange Case of Carol Anne Gotbaum - Updated

Update: Video of Gotbaum's arrest:

Via Slate (thanks to Ron, who didn't want to get involved in the police brutality debate in the comments:

From CNN:
(CNN) -- An autopsy was planned Monday for a 45-year-old mother of three who died in police custody at Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport.

Carol Ann Gotbaum was arrested at the airport Friday for alleged disorderly conduct, said Phoenix Police Department spokesman Sgt. Andy Hill.

Police handcuffed Gotbaum with her hands behind her back and took her a holding cell, where she was later found dead, said Hill.

Police "found her with the handcuffs up by her neck area," Hill said. Gotbaum was unconscious and police and firefighters tried to revive her by CPR and other means, Hill said. "They could not revive her and tragically, she died."
This is absolutely tragic and bizarre.

I can tell you from my time with the TSA that airline passengers often become irate with seeming ease. Air travel is stressful, and many people underestimate the time required, not only to pass through security, but to stand in line waiting to check in with the airline. In some airports, after snide insinuations from airline ticket agents who falsely blamed delays on security procedures, TSA has redesigned the flow of baggage inspection so that passengers can see for themselves that the half hour they spend in line waiting to check in at the airline's desk has nothing to do with security, and everything to do with downsized airline staffs.

US Airways itself has gone through so many layoffs that the ticket agents who remain are mostly twenty-year plus veterans who aren't motivated to take a lot of guff from passengers and who can be infuriatingly smug (that's hypothetical in this case, there isn't any detailed information about Gotbaum's interactions with US Airways employees). And US Airways certainly is not unique; you can see why cases of disorderly conduct at airports are not rare events. Police intervention and arrests are rarer - most passengers get themselves under control before the point where police are called in.

Gotbaum seems to have been beyond self-restraint:
Airport workers who witnessed the arrest told the Daily News that Gotbaum was screaming, "I'm not a terrorist! I'm a sick mom! I need help!"

A police officer put his knee in Gotbaum's back to restrain her while other arresting police grabbed her flailing arms, one worker told the Daily News.

"I believe she was a little not-there," the worker told the newspaper. "She kept punching. She kept screaming. She kept kicking. She looked really scared, really frightened. I think she was afraid to go to jail."
While some are suggesting that the Gotbaum tragedy means we need to loosen security at our airports, it's obvious that this is a police enforcement issue, not a security matter. Gotbaum was at the gates and had already gone through the TSA checkpoint. The issue was her allegedly disruptive behavior; no one accused her of being a terrorist.

Then there's the weird police theory of how Gotbaum died. It doesn't seem logical to try to manipulate cuffs to your front by putting them over your head, it would make more sense to try to slip them down the back of your legs and under your feet.

Any cops experienced an incident like this before?