A Black man pleaded for help from police officers in Arizona before drowning in a lake late last month, newly released footage and records show. According to a transcript of the chilling footage provided by the city, 34-year-old Sean Bickings told police in Tempe, Arizona, that he was drowning and begged the officers for help but they refused. He died in the water at Tempe Town Lake.
A statement from the Tempe Police Department said officers had been called to the Elmore Pedestrian Bridge in Tempe just after 5 am on May 28 following a report of a verbal domestic confrontation between a couple. When the officers arrived on the scene, Bickings and his wife, who was not named, told the officers that no physical fight had occurred. The officers then told Bickings and his wife that they were running their names through a database for any outstanding warrants.
And that was when Bickings told the officers that he was going for a swim. The bodycam footage shows Bickings going over a fence and walking into the lake as he tells the officers: “I am going for a swim. I am free to, right?”
Bickings later started begging for help after he swam 90 to 120 feet into the lake, indicating he was struggling, according to officials. “I’m going to drown. I’m going to drown,” Bickings told police, according to the transcript. An officer responded, “No, you’re not”.
Per the transcript, the police told Bickings to swim and hold onto a pylon. One officer is heard telling Bickings: “I am not jumping in after you.”
“Please help me. Please, please, please,” begs Bickings. A city fire department rescue team later recovered Bickings’ body and pronounced him dead around 11:30 a.m.
Footage of the specific moment that Bickings drowned was withheld by city officials. An edited video of the incident was what was released because the remaining footage contained “sensitive material,” officials said. Officials added that Bickings jumped into the lake to evade police after officials did a background check and found three outstanding warrants, USA Today reported.
The three officers on the scene, whose identities are yet to be released, have been placed on paid administrative leave. An investigation has been launched into the incident.
Members of the Tempe Officers Association have backed the actions of the three officers, saying the officers did not have the resources to save the man.
“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,” the Association said, according to the Independent.
“Officers are trained to call the Fire Department … or get the Tempe Police boat. That is what officers did here.”