An Arizona police union late last month defended its officers’ decision not to rescue a drowning man in Tempe, claiming they didn’t have the resources to pull off the rescue.
Terrifying bodycam footage and a transcript of the May 28 incident show an officer telling Sean Bickings in the water of Tempe Town Lake shortly before his death, “I’m not jumping after you.” Three police officers reportedly stood by as the man begged them for help before drowning.
Bicking’s remains were recovered from the lake six hours later.
“Attempting such a high-risk rescue could easily result in the death of the person in the water and the officer who could be dragged down by a struggling adult,” Tempe Officers Association officials said Monday.
“Officials are trained to call the fire department … or get the Tempe police boat. That’s what the officials here did.”
The police union added that officers receive no water rescue training and have no equipment to help people who are drowning.
However, the “sorrow of the incident reflects the sorrow of our community,” the union said, adding, “No one wanted this incident to end like this.”
Authorities have placed the three officers present at the scene on paid administrative leave following the opening of an investigation.
“The Tempe Police Department is first conducting their death investigation into the case of Sean Bickings. This can take many weeks while waiting for medical and toxicology results. Following the department’s investigation into the death, the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) will also review the investigation,” city officials said in a statement.
It added: “The City of Tempe and the Tempe Police Department are reviewing water response protocols and equipment needs for officers and placement of rescue equipment around bodies of water. More information will be released as it becomes available.”
Police officers were called to the Elmore Pedestrian Bridge in Tempe on the morning of May 28 over a reported disturbance between a couple.
Upon reaching the spot, police were told there had been no physical altercation. Officers then told the couple they were running their names through a database to look for any outstanding warrants.
At this point, Mr Bickings can be seen in the bodycam footage telling police he is “going for a swim”.
“I go swimming. I can walk, right?” Bickings is heard saying.
“You’re not allowed to swim in the lake,” one of the officers told him, but Bickings jumped into the water below the bridge and swam away.
But police officers made no move to pull Bickings out of the water and debated “how far” he would manage to swim away.
The bodycam was only partially released by city officials, with footage of the specific moment Bickings drowning being withheld. Officials said the remaining footage was “sensitive,” so a partial written transcript of the bodycam was released instead.
In the transcript, police said the 34-year-old asked officers to “help me” and repeatedly said he was “going to drown.”
One of the officers then asked him, “So what are you up to now?”
“I’m going to drown,” he shot back, but the same officer dismissed his concerns, saying, “No, you won’t.”
Another officer told him to “at least go to the pylon and hold on.”
“I’m drowning,” Bickings told police, but officers again told him to “come back to the pole.”
Bickings then said: “I can’t. I can’t,” and the officer refused to get into the water to help him. “Okay, I’m not going to jump after you,” the officer said.
Both Bickings and his wife asked police for help. “Please help me. Please, please, please,” Mr Bickings pleaded. His wife told officers, “He’s drowning right in front of you and you’re not going to help.”
It is not clear how long it was before Bickings drowned.