Tempe, Arizona – Sean Bickings, 34, drowned in the Tempe Town Lake after climbing over a barrier and advising Tempe Police Officers he was “going for a swim.”
After the release of body camera footage by the Tempe Police department, many are questioning the Tempe Officers on scene who refused to help Bickings as he struggled in the water, ultimately resulting in Bickings going underwater and failing to resurface. As a result, three Tempe police officers have been placed on paid administrative leave pending a formal investigation by the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Scottsdale Police Department.
According to body-worn camera footage, just after 5 a.m. on May 28, 2022, Tempe Police Officers responded to a disturbance call involving Bickings and a woman who identified herself as Bickings’ wife. She explained to responding officers she and Bickings have arguments like any average couple, noting Bickings did not try to harm her physically.
Two officers are then seen approaching Bickings on a bench facing the lake. As they make small talk with Bickings while waiting for the warrant check to be completed by their dispatch center, Bickings slowly climbed over a short fence dividing the boardwalk and the water. One of the officers asked Bickings what he was doing, to which Bickings replied, “going for a swim.”
Officers advised Bickings that he was not allowed to swim in the lake, but Bickings ignored them and slowly waded out into the lake and began swimming away from the shore. Officers maintained a visual of Bickings and walked onto thTe bridge to keep an eye on him as one of the officers attempted to locate a boat to retrieve Bickings.
Body camera footage released to the media is cut at his point “due to the sensitive nature of the remaining portion of the recording,” officials wrote. A transcript of the remaining video was instead released, indicating Bickings became quickly distressed in the water, telling officers on scene that he was going to “drown.”
Officers directed Bickings to swim towards a bridge pilon to hold onto, but Bickings stated he couldn’t. One of the officers is then heard telling Bickings, “Okay, I’m not jumping in after you.” Moments later, Bickings is heard begging for help, “I can’t touch. Oh, God. Please help me. Help me.”
Bicking’s wife joined the officers on the bridge and begged them to intervene and save Bickings. Instead, the officers told her to convince Bickings to swim towards the pylon, which he again refused. According to the transcript, Bickings’s wife says, “I’m just distraught because he’s drowning right in front of you, and you won’t help.” Officers on the scene advised Bickings that an officer was attempting to get a boat and to stay calm. Moments later, an officer can be heard stating Bickings went underwater and had not resurfaced. Tempe Fire Medical Rescue pulled Bickings’s body out of the water just before 11:30 a.m.
On a Monday, the Tempe Officers Association, the city’s police union, said that Bickings’s drowning was “an awful loss of life.” However, the union argued that the officers were not trained or equipped for water rescue and said that any attempt to rescue Bickings from the reservoir would have been dangerous.
The United States Army Corps of Engineers, Water Safety states, “you should never go near someone struggling to stay afloat because they will hold you under and you could drown. To help rescue someone, extend a pole, stick, line, or clothing to reach them or throw something floatable. The “Reach, Throw, Row, Don’t Go, Call for Help” rescue method is used to save someone and avoid multiple drownings.”
Law Enforcement Officers around the country are not trained to rescue swimmers or lifeguards and are not equipped to rescue actively drowning victims in open water. Although an undeniably tragic situation, people must remember that law enforcement cannot be equipped for every possible situation or scenario.
Let us know what you think in the comments below. In addition, you’ll find a link to a video released by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, which details the “Reach, Throw, Row, Don’t Go, Call for Help” rescue method.
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