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Questioning Arizona

Are the Phoenix police cooperating as much as they can in the investigation of the Gotbaum death?

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Betsy Gotbaum and her family have assembled a team of experts to investigate how her 45-year-old stepdaughter-in-law, Carol, died in police custody at the Phoenix airport September 28, handcuffed in a holding room. But the Gotbaums’ hired guns say they have faced stiff resistance from the Phoenix Police Department in their attempts to get answers. The first brought onboard was an investigative reporter turned gumshoe, Judd Slivka, who was denied access to a press conference releasing video footage of Carol in the airport because he wasn’t a reporter. “I was told we could get our information when other citizens would,” Slivka says. The Gotbaums’ next hire was a local attorney, Michael Manning, who is known for winning one of the biggest wrongful-death suits in the state’s history, against tough-guy county sheriff Joe Arpaio, who famously made his inmates wear pink underwear. (“I have nothing to do with this one,” Arpaio says. “That was a Phoenix police jurisdiction.”)

Phoenix police say they did everything by the book, but Manning says the city police acted with an unnecessary “tackle and shackle” attitude toward Carol. He also fired off a letter to the county’s medical examiner complaining about the treatment of the Gotbaums’ third hire, pathologist Cyril Wecht, who regularly appears on TV to discuss celebrity cases. Wecht had attempted to examine Carol’s body and was rebuffed. When finally granted access, he found key organs missing. “I’m not happy about that,” Wecht says. “They had the body; they didn’t release it until late that afternoon [October 2]. Then they withheld the brain and heart and neck organs.” Wecht says that in similar cases of death while shackled, “diagnoses could range from convulsive-seizure disorder [or] some sort of drug reaction, to brain hemorrhage.” Without the body parts, he can’t tell what happened. The family wants them back. “They wouldn’t give us all of Carol,” Manning says, calling the move “a jab” at the family and its prominent expert. “They knew we were bringing in a pathologist,” Manning says. “They knew we wouldn’t bring in Dr. Schmo from Kokomo.”

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