An Arizona man drowned in a reservoir as three police officers watched, refusing to step in and save him.
The victim, identified as 34-year-old Sean Bickings, drowned in Tempe town lake while three unnamed Tempe police officers stood by and watched, one telling Bickings “I’m not jumping in after you,” Fox 10 Phoenix first reported.
Newly published body-cam video and a transcript of the incident released on 3 June provide insight into the events leading up to Bickings’ drowning and the role of officers who were at the scene.
On 28 May around 5am, according to the recently released video, police responded to an alleged argument between Bickings and a woman.
The woman, who identifies herself as Bickings’ wife in the video, says that the two sometimes have disagreements, but that Bickings did not get physically violent with her.
Two officers then approach Bickings, who was sitting on a bench near the bridge, with a third officer standing nearby. Officers chat with Bickings for a few minutes, asking him where he lives, if he is a fan of the band AC/DC because of the T-shirt he is wearing, and other questions.
As the officers and Bickings talked, the couple’s names were being checked for any outstanding warrants, as is standard protocol, the Washington Post reported.
About 5.12am, Bickings climbed over a short, metal fence between the boardwalk and the water. As Bickings walked towards the water, he asked if he was free to go, to which officers replied: “You can’t swim in the lake, man.”
Bickings entered the water and began to swim further into the lake. As Bickings swam away, one officer asked another: “How far do you think he’s going to be able to swim?”
Shortly after, according to a transcript of the body-camera footage that was released, Bickings began to tell officers that he was drowning.
“I’m going to drown. I’m going to drown,” Bickings said.
“No, you’re not,” replied one of the officers.
When Bickings told officers for a second time that he was drowning and was not able to swim back to the bridge’s pylon, a different officer replied: “OK, I’m not jumping in after you.”
As Bickings was drowning, Bickings’ partner became increasingly distressed, begging officers to save her husband. At one point, an officer tells Bickings’ partner to get off the bridge and threatens to put her in a police car.
“If you don’t calm down, I’m going to put you in my car,” the officer said.
Bickings’ partner continues pressing the officers to jump into the water and rescue Bickings, with officers replying that a boat is on the way.
“No, no, no,” said Bickings’ partner. “Fuckin’ swim.”
“You’re not helping,” replies the officer who threatened to detain her previously.
The same officer repeatedly tells Bickings’ partner to “stop talking” and later shushes her as she watches Bickings drown.
“I’m just distraught because he’s drowning right in front of you and you won’t help,” said Bickings’ partner, who added that officers were being aggressive towards her.
A different officer notes that Bickings had not come up from underneath the water for 30 seconds.
“He’s everything I got,” said Bickings’ partner. “I can’t lose him, he’s going to die.”
Bickings was later pulled from the water about 11.30am on 28 May. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
The Tempe city manager, Andrew Ching ,and the city’s police chief, Jeff Glover, called Bickings’ drowning a “tragedy”, according to a statement published to the Tempe government website on Friday.
All three officers have been placed on non-disciplinary paid administrative leave, which is “customary” in cases involving officer interactions involving deaths, the published statement said.
An investigation into the officers’ response to Bickings’ drowning is being led by the Tempe department of public safety and Scottsdale police department.