Sean Bickings, the Tempe man police watched drown, remembered as ‘a big teddy bear,’ who was ‘truly loved’

"We felt like we had lost a family member," friend Benjamin Jeffrey said.

Those who knew Sean Bickings, a Black man who died begging for his life as police officers watched him struggle to stay afloat in a Tempe, Arizona, lake, are sharing their fond memories of the beloved community member after his passing on May 28.

Bickings, also known as “Madrox,” is remembered by friend Benjamin Jeffrey as a “long-lost brother” and a “big teddy bear” who was loved by his many friends, according to Arizona Republic.

“We supported one another, we basically were just like brothers on the street,” Jeffrey said. “That’s what made his passing so very difficult for me, and a lot of his friends, because we felt like we had lost a family member.”

Recalling Bickings’ signature quick-wit, Jeffrey told the outlet: “He always had a joke, he always had a funny thing to say that would catch you off-guard and make you laugh. He was just a wonderful person all around.”

Body camera footage of the incident showed police standing by while Bickings, who was experiencing homelessness, called for help as his wife begged the officers to take action — which they responded to by threatening to detain her, per a transcript released by police, and reported by Fox 10.

“Everybody is very upset right now, and no one more so than the homeless community – they’re suffering a huge loss,” Katherine Kouvelas-Edick, founder of nonprofit homeless advocacy group the Aris Foundation, told AZ Republic.

Kouvelas-Edick told the outlet that Bickings’ kindness made him a leader in the unhoused community of Tempe, and that anyone who knew him would have positive things to say about him if asked.

As previously reported by theGrio, 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.

Tempe, Arizona, the Phoenix suburb, is reviewing how to handle water rescues as video of three police officers appearing to do nothing as a homeless man drowned in Tempe Town Lake continues to draw outcry. The Tempe Police Department says the three officers are on administrative paid leave after last month’s drowning. (Photo: Ross D. Franklin/AP, File)

City officials noted in a statement 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.”

Jeffrey told AZ Republic that Bickings’ warrants were among the barriers that made it more difficult for him to access housing support services.

“He had a couple of warrants and he just wanted to figure out how to fix them,” Jeffrey said. “We would try to tackle his problems and encourage him to do better, and it was starting to work, and then he died.” 

“I just wanna make sure that people know that this is not just a homeless person who died in the lake, this is a man who was truly, truly loved, and his life mattered,” Kouvelas-Edick told the outlet. 

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