Cop to Drowning Man: 'I'm Not Jumping In'

Three officers in Tempe, Arizona, on leave after they watched a man drown
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 6, 2022 7:40 AM CDT
Cop to Drowning Man: 'I'm Not Jumping In'
A screen shot from police body cam footage. Sean Bickings is at right. (This video does not show the drowrning.)   (YouTube)

Three officers in Tempe, Arizona, have been placed on administrative leave after a transcript of their body cam video revealed a chilling scene: They ignored the pleas of a drowning man as he died on May 28, reports Fox10. "I'm going to drown. I’m going to drown," 34-year-old Sean Bickings tells the officers after he entered Tempe Town Lake and began to struggle. "OK, I’m not jumping in after you," an officer tells him from a bridge. The officers instead directed Bickings to swim to a pylon and hang on. At various times, Bickings is heard saying, "I can't, I can't," and, "Please help me. Please, please, please." Bickings eventually went under, and his body was later recovered.

The incident began when officers responded to some kind of disturbance between Bickings and a woman who identified herself as his partner near the reservoir, per the Washington Post. The woman told officers that Bickings had not physically harmed her, and officers were speaking with the pair and running background checks when Bickings climbed a railing and entered the lake despite officers telling him not to do so. He began swimming freestyle, but started to struggle after about 30 yards, per a city release. The release describes Bickings as "unsheltered," or homeless.

The city released body cam footage of the initial encounter; while it shows Bickings entering the water, it does not show his drowning. However, the city released a transcript of that unshown portion of the video. At one point, Bickings' partner also pleads with the officers. "I'm just distraught because he’s drowning right in front of you and you won’t help," she says. When an officer tells her that an officer is getting a boat, she responds, "No, no, no, swim." The unnamed officers are on non-disciplinary paid leave as the investigation continues. (More Tempe, Arizona stories.)

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