[Warning: Potentially Triggering Content]
Three police officers in Arizona have been placed on administrative leave after standing by and watching as a man drown in a reservoir in the city of Tempe.
Disturbing bodycam footage has been released of 34-year-old Sean Bickings interacting with cops in the moments leading up to his drowning death following an “alleged fight” with a woman claiming to be his wife.
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The incident occurred back on May 28, in the early hours of the morning, when Tempe cops responded to the reported fight between Bickings and his purported wife, who was identified only as Susan. Now, bodycam footage from the incident has been released to the public — and people are up in arms over Bickings’ death, with many convinced his drowning was all too preventable.
In the footage, three officers approach the woman, who admits to having some “issues” with her husband but adds he has not been violent towards her. The officers take Bickings some distance away to calm him down, but the distressed man suddenly jumps over one of the four-foot railings that rings the Tempe Town Lake reservoir.
Asking cops if he is “free to go,” Bickings walks down to the water line as an officer leans up to the railing and says:
“You can’t swim in the lake, man. You’re not allowed to swim in the lake.”
Bickings wades in anyway and starts swimming, making it maybe 100 feet out into the water. It seems clear they know this is dangerous as one officer says to another on camera:
“How far do you think he’s gonna be able to swim?”
Another officer advises the first to keep an eye on Bickings and leaves to summon a boat for rescue.
A bike-mounted cop who, at this point, has ridden down across a bridge to the scene, warns the remaining officers present that turbines at the other end of the reservoir could prove to be deadly:
“I’m pretty sure there’s turbines at the base of the dam that could suck him under the water.”
At that point, the released version of the bodycam footage cuts off; media has been told it was “due to the sensitive nature of the remaining portion of the recording.” They noted that Bickings drowned “minutes later.”
While they did not release video of the moment of his drowning, the Tempe Police Department did share a transcript of the interaction right before the man’s death. According to that transcript, one officer yells down to Bickings:
“So what’s your plan right now?”
“I’m going to drown. I’m going to drown.”
The officer calls back:
“No, you’re not.”
A second officer calls down:
“Go… to the pylon and hold on.”
Bickings yells back:
An officer calls out:
“Come back over to the pylon.”
Bickings responds, ever more frantic:
“I can’t. I can’t.”
An officer replies:
“OK, I’m not jumping in after you.”
Bickings’ last words come from there, with him begging for help before slipping under the surface of the water:
“Please help me. Please, please, please. I can’t touch. Oh God. Please help me. Help me. … Can you hear me?”
So, so sad…
In a statement released in conjunction with the transcript, the Tempe PD claimed:
“[Bickings drowned after] voluntarily entering the water and soon becoming unable to continue swimming. Before entering the lake, he had been conversing, unhandcuffed, with the officers, who had responded to a call about an alleged fight between Bickings and his companion. Neither were being detained for any offense. When officers arrived, they spoke to Bickings and his companion, who cooperated fully and denied that any physical argument had taken place.”
The department said officers were running Bickings’ name through their database to check on warrants, which they say is standard procedure, when he first climbed over the railing:
“That check had not yet been completed when Bickings decided to slowly climb over a 4-foot metal fence and enter the water. Officers informed him swimming is not allowed in the lake. He swam about 30-40 yards before repeatedly indicating he was in distress. He soon went under and did not resurface.”
Bickings was “an unsheltered Tempe community member,” the cops claimed in a release to the media later. They also reported that he had “three outstanding warrants.”
Now, all three responding officers who witness the drowning have been placed on a non-disciplinary paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, according to the department.
In a statement released to CNNthe Tempe Officers Association police union said cops do not receive any training in water rescues — nor do they have any equipment to help those at risk of drowning. The TOA stated to the news outlet:
“Attempting such a high-risk rescue could easily result in the death of the person in the water and the officer, who could be pulled down by a struggling adult. Officers are trained to call the Fire Department and or get the Tempe Police boat. That is what officers did here.”
The statement continued:
“[The interaction was] General cordial prior to Mr. Bickings entering the lake. He was free to go at any time. To watch the 11-minute video leading up to Mr. Bickings’ entering Tempe Town Lake and to understand how this 911 call ended is to see an awful loss of life. Our grief mirrors our community’s grief. No one wanted this incident to end as it did.”
But not everyone who has watched the video interprets it like that.
Jamaar Williamsan activist with Phoenix Black Lives Mattertold USA Today that “there is no question” the cops were “indifferent” as they watched Bickings drown. He added:
“The whole reason Madrocks [Bickings’ nickname] was scared is because of the threat. It was police violence. Police don’t actually have to be exercising that violence to cause that reaction which is fear, panic, and self-survival. That’s absolutely state violence and police violence.”
You can see the clipped body cam footage for yourself (below), but be warned, as even though Bickings’ actual death is removed from the video, it is still very disturbing in context:
Wow. Such a heartbreaking situation.
[Image via Fox 10 Phoenix/YouTube]