An Arizona police union has defended its officers’ decision not to rescue a drowning man in Tempe late last month, saying they lacked the resources to carry out the rescue.
Chilling body camera footage and a transcript of the May 28 incident show an officer telling Sean Bickings “I’m not jumping after you” moments before he died in the water at Tempe Town Lake. Three police officers are said to have stood there as the man begged them for help before drowning.
Bicking’s remains were found in the lake six hours later.
“Attempting such a risky rescue could easily result in the death of the person in the water and the officer, who could be shot by a struggling adult,” representatives of the Tempe Officers Association said Monday.
“Officers are trained to call the fire department … or get the Tempe police boat. That’s what the officers did here.
The police union added that officers do not receive water rescue training and do not have equipment to help drowning people.
However, “the grief over the incident reflects the grief of our community,” the union said, adding, “No one wanted this incident to end the way it did.”
Authorities placed the three officers at the scene on paid administrative leave after opening an investigation.
“Tempe Police are conducting their death investigation first in the case of Sean Bickings. This could take several weeks due to the need to wait for medical examiner 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.
He added, “The City of Tempe and Tempe Police are reviewing water response protocols and officer equipment needs as well as the placement of lifesaving equipment around bodies of water. More information will be posted as it becomes available. »
Police were called to the Elmore Pedestrian Bridge in Tempe on the morning of May 28 following a reported disturbance between a couple.
Upon arriving at the scene, police were informed that no physical altercation had broken out. Officers then told the couple they were going through their names in a database to check if there were any outstanding warrants for their arrests.
At the time, Mr Bickings is seen in body camera footage telling police he is going to ‘go for a swim’.
“I’m going to go swimming. I’m free to go, aren’t I? We hear Bickings say.
“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 started swimming.
But officers made no move to pull Bickings out of the water and discussed ‘how far’ he would manage to swim.
The body camera was only partially released by city officials with withheld footage of the exact moment Bickings drowned. Officials said the remaining footage was “sensitive” and so a partial written transcript from the body camera was released instead.
In the transcript, police said the 34-year-old pleaded with officers to “help me” and repeatedly said he was “going to drown”.
One of the officers then asked him, “So what’s your plan right now?”
“I’m going to drown,” he fired back, but the same officer dismissed his concerns, saying “no, I’m not.”
Another officer asked him to “at least go as far as the pylon and hold on”.
“I’m drowning,” Bickings told police, but was again told by officers to “get back to the pylon.”
Bickings then said, “I can’t. I can’t” and the officer refused to enter the water to help him. “Okay, I’m not rushing after you,” the officer said.
Bickings and his wife begged the police to help them. “Help me please. Please, please, please,” Mr Bickings pleaded. His wife told officers “he is drowning right outside you and that you will not help him”.
It is unclear how long it took before Bickings drowned.