ISTANBUL — When Tracy Brown arrived in Turkey on her way home to Detroit from Central Asia, she faced a long wait for her connecting flight back to the United States.
In the event, she never made the plane.
Newly released footage from security cameras shows Brown, 48, arguing with Turkish customs officials and police officers at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport after her arrival in April 2013 and being led to an interrogation room.
Later, she was restrained with handcuffs and finally pinned down on the ground with half a dozen officers on top of her. When she suffered cardiac arrest, a doctor performed CPR on her and sent her to a hospital, but she died 13 days later without regaining consciousness.
You may recall that Ataturk Airport was in the headlines in October, when the body of British journalist Jacqueline Sutton was found in an airport toilet. Sutton apparently committed suicide by hanging herself from the toilet doorknob with her shoelaces. Sutton’s family initially suspected foul play but later said they believed she took her own life.
In this earlier case, which is still in the courts and still making news, 12 police officers are accused of causing Brown’s death by using disproportionate force while restraining her. They face up to 16 years in prison each. In addition, an airport doctor is charged with negligence and could be jailed for six years. Funda Sadikahmet Alp, a lawyer for the defense, told The Daily Beast that a verdict is not expected until next summer.
As Turkey’s security forces have a reputation for using excessive force against demonstrators and against suspects in police detention, the case has received widespread coverage in this country and beyond.
Brown’s daughter, Tracey Shaver, says her mother was murdered. But Alp, the Turkish lawyer, says the case was more complicated.
Brown arrived at Ataturk Airport in the early hours of April 4, 2013, from the Uzbek capital Tashkent, where she had a teaching job, according to her daughter. Brown was supposed to go on to Chicago from Istanbul more than six hours later. But she missed the flight for unknown reasons. Instead, she got into two separate arguments and physical confrontations with the police, the second of which proved fatal.
In the first row, in the evening hours of April 4, Brown is seen entering a room close to the airport’s passport control counters and arguing with an officer there. The row lasts for about 13 minutes, after which Brown disappears from surveillance cameras, according to Turkish media that published the pictures.
Brown then reappears about six hours later, again clashing with police officers. This time she is handcuffed and pinned to the ground. It is not known where Brown was or what she did between the two incidents.
According to Turkish news reports quoting the prosecution charge sheet, the police officers testified that Brown displayed an “aggressive attitude.” They said she tried to destroy a computer and threw papers around. At one point Brown injured an officer with a pair of scissors. Surveillance footage shows her sitting strapped to a chair with handcuffs but freeing herself soon afterwards. When she is thrown to the ground later on, police officers hold her on the ground for 17 minutes by sitting and kneeling on her.
The surveillance footage became public only in September, more than two years after Brown’s death. The reason for the delay remains unclear.
Nazif Koray Kirca, a lawyer representing Brown’s family, told the Turkish daily Hurriyet his clients were preparing to become plaintiffs in the ongoing criminal trial and would also sue for damages.
“The video shows excessive violence,” the lawyer said. Another complaint by the family was that the autopsy had not been performed according to medical rules. Pictures taken during the autopsy “are horrifying,” said Kirca. He added the family would be trying to have the surveillance footage taken off the Internet because it was causing a “trauma” to those close to Brown.
The prosecution argues that police officers overreacted and that there is a clear causal link between the treatment meted out by them and Brown’s death. The charge sheet says three postmortem reports concluded that Brown died because “sustained pressure on her breast and neck over a long time prevented her from breathing.”
Police officers told prosecutors Brown wanted to talk to her daughter and refused to speak to anybody else. When officers called a doctor from the airport’s medical team, paramedics injected a sedative, but the doctor himself never went near Brown, nor did he examine her, leading to the charge of negligence.
Alp, the defense lawyer, told The Daily Beast the defense team suspected that either drugs or alcohol might have been a factor in Brown’s behavior at the airport. She said a capsule with unknown content was found in Brown’s anus during the postmortem. “I am sure the results of the analysis will be known by the time the trial continues” on Feb. 9 next year, she said.
The defense team is planning to call members of the crew of the plane that brought Brown from Tashkent to Istanbul as witnesses at the trial. Alp said there were reports Brown had caused “trouble” on that flight. She also said Brown’s daughter had called Turkish Airlines before her mother’s arrival in Istanbul to ask for wheelchair service because of an undetermined ailment; according to Turkish news reports. Turkish doctors concluded—after her death—that Brown was suffering from bipolar disorder.
Finally, Alp said, there was the issue of the sedative that the medical team injected and which might have played a role in Brown’s death. “There are many question marks,” she said.