Three Tempe, Arizona police officers have been placed on administrative leave after recently released body-camera video shows them watch as a man drowned to death in Tempe Town Lake. According to transcripts of the interaction, the officers ignored the man’s pleas for help and instead stood by as he drowned.
The incident began just after 5 a.m. on May 28 when Tempe police officers responded to a report of a domestic violence situation between the man, identified as Sean Bickings, 34, and his wife at the Tempe Beach Park.
Body-camera footage shows the officers approach the couple and speak to a woman who said she was Bickings’s wife. She explained that she and Bickings were having a disagreement but said he had not hit or physically harm her.
The officers then walked over to Bickings, who was seated on a bench facing the water. They question him for about 4 minutes and when he suddenly climbs over a short fence dividing the boardwalk from the lake.
One of the officers asked, “What are you doing my friend?”
Bickings replied that he was “going for a swim.”
“I’m free to go, right?” Bickings asked.
The officers replied, “You’re not allowed to swim in the lake”
Bickings swims further away from shore as officers watch. One asks another, “How far do you think he’s going to be able to swim?”
The body-camera footage is cut short due to the sensitive nature of the video, however police released the transcripts of the officer’s interaction with Bickings as he was drowning.
In a transcript of conversations released by Tempe Police, an officer, only identified as ‘Officer 1,’ was noted as telling Bickings that he won’t be going into the lake.
“I’m going down. I’m drowning,” Bickings, noted as ‘victim’ in the transcript, said.
“Come back over to the pylon,” an officer, noted as ‘Officer 2′ in the transcript, said.
“I can’t. I can’t (inaudible),” said Bickings.
“OK, I’m not jumping in after you,” said Officer 1.
“Please help me,” Bickings said. “Please, please, please.”
The rest of the document reveals how his wife continued to beg them for help while the officers continued to tell her to calm down.
“I’m just distraught because he’s drowning right in front of him and you won’t help,” she said.
For the remainder of the transcript, the officers did not address Bickings. Bickings’s wife continued to tell the officers that she loved Bickings as she pleaded for them to help the drowning man.
“He’s everything I got,” she said. “I can’t lose him, he’s going to die.”
An officer noted that Bickings hadn’t resurfaced from the water for about 30 seconds. Soon after, Bickings drowned, according to a Friday news release by city officials. Officials said Bickings swam no more than 40 yards before he became distressed and “soon went under and did not resurface.”
The Tempe Fire’s Dive and Rescue team pulled his body out of the water at 11:30 a.m. that morning. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
The three officers who were on the scene have not yet been identified by the Tempe Police Department. They have been put on “non-disciplinary paid administrative leave” as the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Scottsdale Police Department investigate the officers’ response at the city of Tempe’s request, city officials said.