Carol Anne Gotbaum's husband Noah and their three children, seen here with their Rabbi following Carol's October 7 funeral at New York's Congregation Rodeph Sholom.
The funeral for Carol Anne Gotbaum had barely ended before we learned that she was not the first innocent, emotionally disturbed woman to die at the hands of the police at Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport.
The New York Daily News (and thanks to Jeri Lynn Ward, JD, for the tip) reports that Michael Manning, the attorney hired by the Gotbaum family, is planning to sue the Phoenix PD "for the death of a 70-year-old grandmother who died under similar circumstances" as those surrounding Carol Anne Gotbaum's demise.
Doris Watson, an elderly woman suffering from bipolar disorder, died from a heart attack after her arrest on March 13. When paramedics arrived, the police, ever helpful, told them that the grandmother was "faking" the symptoms. This might be even more callous than blithely tending to the details of a Chinese food delivery order -- "I'll have spring rolls with that" -- while keeping Carol's husband Noah in the dark about the fact that his wife had died in police custody.
The details of Doris Watson's case haven't been made public yet, but the Daily News reports that she was "cuffed by Phoenix police after she refused to get out of her daughter's car.... [A] distraught Watson went into cardiac arrest as she was subdued...."
Try as I might, I cannot think of a reason for police to arrest, "subdue," and handcuff a woman in her 70s simply because she refused to get out of a car. Was she considered a security risk, or a shoplifting suspect? That about exhausts the possibilities I can imagine. In any case it's difficult to imagine how the police can justify the kind of treatment that would send a grandmother into coronary arrest, let alone the arrogant, bullying final touch of mocking the victim in her death agony.
Other critical details about Carols death are working their way to the surface.
Last Friday, shortly after the incident, an individual identified only as "an airline employee" has told Manning that Carol "was listless, unconscious [or] nearly unconscious," reports the New York Times. Manning has urged the Phoenix police to interview the witness. It's difficult to see how a woman in that condition would try to injure herself -- let alone carry out the feat of double-jointed athleticism required to strangle herself with the handcuffs restraining her, as the official account describes.
At yesterday's funeral for Carol, Rabbi Robert Levine stated that "The central teaching of both Judaism and Christianity is to love your neighbor as yourself. But at that airport ... there was no such love offered to our Carol."
In his remarks at the funeral, Noah lamented: "If the airline or the airport had put an arm around her shoulders, sat her down and given her some attention, she might still be with us today."
She certainly cried out for help.
According to Omar Guerrero, an airport vendor who witnessed Carol's breakdown at Sky Harbor, the agitated mother was furious and frustrated after she was refused a seat on a connecting flight to Tucson.
"She kept yelling, `I'm not a terrorist, I'm a sick mother, I need help,'" recalls Guerrero. Other witnesses describe an epic meltdown, with Carol hurling her Blackberry at a wall, emptying her purse, gesticulating wildly, and screaming out profane abuse at the expense of the police and security officials.
Given her behavior, it's clear that security personnel had to intervene. But it's just as clear that she needed medical treatment, rather than being surrounded by cops, taken to the floor, cuffed behind her back, and then chained to a bench in a fashion that might lead to an animal abuse charge had the detainee been a dog rather than a sick, frantic mother.
Carol has been described as a loving, appealing, talented, but troubled woman with serious emotional problems and a persistent alcohol addiction. When Carol and her husband agreed that she needed to be sent to Cottonwood de Tucson, an austere rehab clinic.
The original plan was for Carol to fly directly from New York City to Tucson. But she missed her direct flight in order to see her children off to their first day in public school (they had previously attended a private school at their synagogue). A family friend was supposed to meet her in Phoenix to escort her to the connecting flight, but he failed to materialize. Carol apparently found her way to the airport bar, which certainly didn't help matters.
Many people have criticized Noah for sending Carol to Phoenix alone. Others -- particularly in on-line comment threads -- have insisted that Carol had nothing but herself to blame for her death. As noted above, sending Carol to Arizona by herself wasn't the original plan, and it was seen as a matter of life or death to get her to the rehab clinic in Tuscon as quickly as possible.
The fact remains that Carol -- whatever her behavior -- died in the hands of the police, the same police force that killed another emotionally disturbed woman at the same airport just months earlier.
A minimal amount of human solicitude for Doris Watson and Carol Anne Gotbaum would have prevented those needless deaths. But such traits aren't to be found in the short-term prisons that airports have become in the age of Homeland Security.
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