PHOENIX— Three police officers in Arizona are on administrative leave amid a probe into their response after a man jumped into a lake and drowned last month despite repeated pleas for help, newly released footage and records show.
According to a transcript of the footage provided by the city, Sean Bickings, 34, told Tempe police he was drowning and begged officers for help. Authorities said Bickings, who city officials described as an “unsheltered” member of the Tempe community, apparently jumped into the lake in an attempt to evade police officials after did a background check and found three outstanding warrants.
Body camera footage and to video transcript were released to The Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY Network, by officials in Tempe, Arizona, on Monday. Police released an edited, incomplete video of the May 28 incident as it contained “sensitive material,” the video states.
An original statement from the Tempe Police Department said officers responded to reports of a verbal domestic confrontation on May 28 around 5:00 am involving a man and a woman. The released body camera footage shows officers speaking separately to Bickings and to a woman who identified herself as Bickings’ wife.
The woman reportedly told officers that they had engaged in a discussion, but that Bickings had not been physically violent. Footage later showed Bickings going over a fence and walking into the lake as he tells police: “I am going for a swim. I am free to, right?”
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According to Tempe officials, Bickings began begging for assistance after he swam about 90 to 120 feet into the lake, indicating he was in distress.
“I’m going to drown. I’m going to drown,” Bickings reportedly told police. An officer responded, “No, you’re not,” according to the transcript.
The transcript adds that police told Bickings to swim and hold onto a pylon. One officer reportedly told Bickings: “I am not jumping in after you.”
The original police statement said officers “immediately” started rescue efforts, and that Bickings “was uncooperative” with the rescue efforts.
According to the transcript, a person identified in the document as a witness attempted to jump into the lake to help Bickings, who did not resurface. A city fire department rescue team recovered Bickings’ body and pronounced him dead just before 11:30 am
The three officers, whose identities were not released, are currently under non-disciplinary administrative paid leave.
Jamaar Williams, an activist with Black Lives Matter in metro Phoenix, said “there is no question” the incident involved police violence from the Tempe officers. According to Williams, Bickings was largely known as Madrocks among the Tempe community.
“The whole reason Madrocks was scared is because of the threat, it was police violence,” Williams said. “Police don’t actually have to be exercising that violence to cause that reaction which is fear, panic, and self-survival.”
Williams said in the video and the transcript that police were “indifferent” toward Bickings’ situation as he pleaded for help.
“That’s absolutely state violence and police violence,” Williams said.
In a city statement, City Manager Andrew Ching and Police Chief Jeff Glover called Bickings’ death a tragedy. Officials have asked the Department of Public Safety and Scottsdale police to examine the Tempe police response to the drowning.
Contributing: The Associated Press
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism