Tempe, AZ – Three officers with the Tempe police have been placed on non-disciplinary administrative paid leave after they allegedly did nothing to help a homeless man who drowned in a lake. The police department has since released the edited body camera footage which shows 34-year-old Sean Bickings begging officers to help as he was drowning.
The incident unfolded on May 28 when officers responded to a report about an argument between Bickings and his wife, who resided outside the Tempe Center For The Arts. When cops arrived at the scene, they approached the couple who denied having a physical argument, according to CBS News. But they claim Bickings jumped into the man-made lake in an attempt to evade them after they found three outstanding warrants during a background check.
Bickings said he was going “for a swim” even as cops informed him that swimming was not allowed in the lake. Despite being instructed to get back, Bickings reportedly swam away and it was the last time he was seen alive on the 11-minute edited video. Orionya Jensen, who was once homeless, and knew Bickings for years, said, “That’s all I can describe it as — it was devastating.”
Per reports, a transcript from the redacted footage revealed Bickings’ last words to be “I’m drowning, I’m drowning.” At that point, an officer did guide him to a pylon but the 34-year-old claimed that he could not make it back. To this, the officer responded, “OK. I’m not jumping in after you” as his wife yelled, “He’s drowning right in front of you and you won’t help.”
“To hear of someone standing there while his wife screams in the background to ‘save my husband, I don’t have anything without him’ — it’s despicable,” shared Jensen. Meanwhile, the Tempe Officers Association released a statement noting that the officers at the scene did not have any training in water rescues or equipment that would assist in the same. Thus, if they chose to go after Bickings to save him, they would have put themselves at risk of drowning.
Instead, the officers called a police boat which was considered the right protocol by the association. It was also noted that the cops at the scene could not detain Bickings as he and his wife denied having a physical fight.
Local attorney Benjamin Taylor, who isn’t involved in the case, weighed in. “Here is a failure to serve and protect. The fact that they failed to render aid as he was dying, he was pleading for help, that definitely makes Tempe liable for this man’s death,” said Taylor. Per the transcript, a person identified as a witness attempted to jump into the lake to rescue Bickings, who unfortunately did not resurface.
Later, a city fire department rescue team recovered the man’s body and pronounced him dead. The Arizona Department of Public Safety has been asked by Tempe officials to investigate the officers’ response to the drowning.