Transcript: Officers watched man drown as his wife begged them to enter lake and rescue him
The transcript shows that an officer threatened to detain the man's wife
Police body cam footage shows a harrowing incident in which a Black man struggled to stay afloat in a lake, his wife screaming for help, and police standing by, doing nothing — and even threatening the distraught woman with being placed in a patrol car.
Sean Bickings drowned in a Tempe Arizona lake. A transcript released by police, and reported by Fox 10 (KSAZ-TV) in Phoenix, shows the man begging for his life.
“Please help me,” Bickings calls out. “Please, please please.”
The first officer replies, “Okay, I’m not jumping in after you.”
However, representatives with the Tempe Officers Association, the union representing the police department in Tempe, Arizona, said officers are not trained in water rescues and lack the equipment required to help people who are drowning, NBC News reports.
“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,” representatives of the union said in a statement. “Officers are trained to call the Fire Department … or get the Tempe Police boat. That is what officers did here.”
Authorities released body camera footage from the incident,
Bickings’ encounter with police began when officers arrived at Tempe Center for the Arts just after 5 a.m. on May 28 after receiving calls of a disturbance involving Bickings and his wife. The couple reportedly denied that a physical fight had taken place.
Bickings, described by officers as an “unsheltered Tempe community member,” attempted to flee by getting into the lake and that turned out to be a fatal decision.
In a statement, Tempe officials noted that when “officers told the couple they were running their names through a database used to check whether people have outstanding arrest warrants,” Bickings responded by climbing over a 4-foot metal fence near the Elmore Pedestrian Bridge, per the report. He then made his way down into the lake.
“Officers informed him swimming is not allowed in the lake,” reads the statement. “He swam about 30 to 40 yards before repeatedly indicating he was in distress. He soon went under and did not resurface.”
According to the transcript, the man’s wife, who is not named, begs the officers to help Bickings.
“I’m just distraught because he’s drowning right in front of you, and you won’t help,” she says.
The transcript shows that an officer threatened to detain the woman.
“If you don’t calm down, I’m going to put you in my car,” the officer says.
Bickings yells out, “I can’t touch. Oh God. Please help me. Help me,” he said, adding “Can you hear me?”
The bodycam footage ends just before the drowning.
Bickings’ body was pulled from the lake hours later, according to the report. The Tempe Officers Association said in a statement that its “grief mirrors our community’s grief,” adding, “No one wanted this incident to end as it did.”
Meanwhile, the three officers at the scene have been placed on non-disciplinary paid administrative leave pending the investigation into the police response to the drowning.
“The three Tempe police officers who responded to the call and witnessed the drowning have been placed on non-disciplinary paid administrative leave pending the investigations, as is customary in critical incidents,” per the official police statement, according to the report.
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