Woman's family sues police in airport death - East Valley Tribune: News

Woman's family sues police in airport death

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Posted: Thursday, May 8, 2008 3:20 pm | Updated: 9:04 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

A powerful New York family filed a lawsuit Thursday accusing several Phoenix police officers of negligence and indifference in the death of a family member who died in custody last year at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

PDF: Read the lawsuit

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The family of Carol Gotbaum also demanded a jury hear the case and called into question the Phoenix Police Department’s training of its officers.

“Instead of treating Carol as a mentally or physically impaired citizen, the officers immediately subjected her to excessive and unreasonable force,” states the lawsuit, filed in Maricopa County Superior Court.

Gotbaum died in September when she became tangled in her shackles inside an airport holding facility.

Police detained her after she missed her flight and began yelling things like, “I am not a terrorist,” and throwing objects in the airport’s Terminal 4.

It was later revealed Gotbaum was en route from New York to Tucson to undergo alcohol rehabilitation.

The lawsuit names officers Andrew Wonya, Duane Rigg Jr., Dick Richards, Jason Toth and Terri Klepper, as well as Police Chief Jack Harris, as the defendants.

The department declined to comment on the lawsuit through a spokesman, Sgt. Andy Hill.

Since her death, Gotbaum’s family has barraged Phoenix police with questions about the manner in which she was detained and whether officers recognized she was mentally ill. The family even hired its own physician to perform an independent autopsy and lawyers to conduct an investigation.

In return, police have accused the Gotbaums of turning the woman’s death into a media event. The department has stood by its officers, saying they acted responsibly and the death was not their fault.

In March, with the help of Phoenix-based attorney Michael Manning, the family filed a claim demanded the city pay $8 million for the death. Almost immediately, the city refused to pay, essentially paving the way for the suit.

The suit, also filed by Manning, does not name an amount of money the woman’s survivors — her husband and two young children — are seeking. It opts instead to leave it up to a jury.

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