AZ cops under fire for standing by as man drowns, body cam captures cries for help

When Arizona police officers say you’re not allowed to swim in a lake, you’d better listen to them. Otherwise, you may end up drowning as they watch.

This is, apparently, the lesson to be drawn from a recent tragic incident in Tempe, Arizona. Allegedly, a transcription of bodycam footage from local police officers indicates that they merely stood by and ignored a man’s pleas for help as he drowned after unadvisedly jumping into Tempe Town Lake for a swim.

According to reporting from the local News 12 station, 34-year-old Sean Bickings and his unnamed partner were approached by police shortly after 5 a.m. on May 28, near Tempe’s Elmore Pedestrian Bridge. The officers were responding to a reported “disturbance” at the scene, though Bickings and his wife denied there was an altercation.

When the cops informed the couple that they were running a standard check on their names to see if they had any outstanding arrest warrants, Bickings suddenly decided to climb over a four-foot fence and then dive into the water.

The bodycam footage, which was reviewed by News 12, records Bickings’ interaction with the police.

“I’m gonna go for a swim,” he says. “I’m free to go, right?”

As a matter of fact, he wasn’t, and the police informed Bickings that he was not allowed to go for a swim in the lake. However, they were unable to prevent him from going into the water.

**WARNING: Sensitive Content**

The video shows Bickings swimming out into the lake, heedless of the cops’ admonitions, as one cop asks the others: “How far do you think he is going to be able to swim?” The footage cuts out at this point, as the Tempe police redacted the footage of the man’s drowning, claiming it is too “sensitive,” according to News 12.

Instead, they provided a transcript of the incident.

“I’m drowning,” Bickings shouts.

“Come back over to the pylon,” one of the officers says.

“I can’t, I can’t,” Bickings is heard to say.

“Okay, I’m not jumping in after you,” another officer replies.

“Please help me! Please, please, please,” Bickings is heard to beg on the bodycam footage. “I can’t touch…oh God, please help me. Help me.”

Bickings’ wife apparently also begs the officers to help him.

“I’m just distraught because he’s drowning right in front of you and you won’t help,” she is heard to say, which seems like a reasonable reaction, given the situation. A police officer warns her that he’ll detain her in a police car if she doesn’t settle down.

“I’m trying to,” she says, “but I get very emotional ’cause I care deeply about him. ‘Cause he gave me my little girl, for crying out loud.”

The usual suspects have joined in to call for the abolition of the police, without awaiting further facts in the case. Because of Bickings’ race, the story is quickly be framed as an incident of racist cops indifferent to the drowning of a black man.

“Rest in Power Sean Bickings,” said one Twitter user. “The world will be a safer place when we abolish the police.”

“Reason #1,326,498 why cops should not exist,” said another. “They watched a Black man, Sean Bickings, drown and said they won’t help. Threatened to arrest his wife if she didn’t ‘calm down.'”

The video shows one of the officers apparently trying to get a boat to attempt a rescue, but it was too late by that time. Bickings drowned, and his body reportedly wasn’t fished out of the lake until six hours later.

The three officers who responded to the scene have been placed on administrative leave, as is standard in these situations, pending the conclusion of an investigation into the matter.

As with almost all police confrontations, there is often much more to the story than is first reported.


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Todd Jaquith


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