Bodycam shows Arizona police officers standing by as man begs for help and drowns in lake

Footage and a transcript of the 28 May incident reveals an officer telling Sean Bickings ‘I’m not jumping in after you’ moments before he died

Rachel Sharp
Tuesday 07 June 2022 13:23 BST
Bodycam shows moments before Arizona man drowns while police 'stand by'
Leer en Español

Chilling bodycam has captured the moment Arizona police officers allegedly stood by as a man begged them for help, before drowning in a lake.

Footage and a transcript of the 28 May incident, obtained by 12News, reveals an officer telling Sean Bickings “I’m not jumping in after you” moments before he died in the water at Tempe Town Lake.

Officers had been called to the Elmore Pedestrian Bridge in Tempe just after 5am that morning to a report of a disturbance between a couple.

When they arrived on the scene, Mr Bickings, 34, and his wife, who was not named, told officers that no physical fight had taken place.

The officers then told the couple that they were running their names through a database to check for any outstanding warrants for their arrests.

At that point, Mr Bickings is seen in the bodycam footage telling police he is going “for a swim”.

“I’m gonna go for a swim. I’m free to go right?” Mr Bickings says.

The 34-year-old then clambers over a metal fence and sits on the edge of the water.

The officers stand watching from the water’s edge and tell him he can’t go swimming in the lake.

“You’re not allowed to swim in the lake,” one of the officers tells him.

Mr Bickings then jumps into the water below the bridge and starts to swim away.

The officers make no movement to retrieve him from the water, simply watching as they discuss “how far” they think he will manage to swim.

The bodycam was only released in part by city officials with footage withheld of the specific moment that Mr Bickings drowned.

Officials said that the remaining footage was “sensitive” and so a partial written transcript of the bodycam was released instead.

In the transcript, the 34-year-old begs the officers to “help me” and repeatedly says that he is “going to drown”.

“So what’s your plan right now?” one of the officers asks Mr Bickings.

“I’m going to drown,” he replies, according to the transcript.

The same officer dismisses his concerns, saying “no, you’re not”.

Another officer urges him to “at least go to the pylon and hold on”.

“I’m drowning,” Mr Bickings replies.

The officer again tells him to “come back over to the pylon”.

When the 34-year-old replies “I can’t. I can’t”, the officer refuses to get in the water to help him.

“Okay, I’m not jumping in after you,” the officer says.

Mr Bickings and his wife beg the officers to do something to save him from drowning.

“Please help me. Please, please, please,” begs Mr Bickings.

His wife tells the officers “he’s drowning right in front of you and you won’t help”.

It is not clear how long Mr Bickings was left to struggle in the water before he disappeared under the surface and drowned.

Officials said that at least one of the officers did try to get a boat to help the 34-year-old.

His body was eventually recovered from the lake six hours later.

The three officers on the scene have been placed on paid administrative leave while an investigation is ongoing.

A police union defended the officers’ actions after the video captured nationwide attention on Monday, claiming that they did not have the resources to conduct the rescue.

“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 Tempe Officers Association said.

“Officers are trained to call the Fire Department ... or get the Tempe Police boat. That is what officers did here.”

The police union added that officers do not receive training in water rescue and do not have equipment to help people who are drowning.

However, the incident’s “grief mirrors our community’s grief”, the union said, adding: “No one wanted this incident to end as it did.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in