Tempe police watched a man drown while refusing to offer assistance. “I’m not jumping in after you,” one of the officers says in a transcript of body-cam footage from the encounter, which took place at Tempe Town Lake around sunrise on Saturday, May 28.
The man, Sean Bickings, repeatedly asked the officers for help. After the Tempe Fire Department’s dive and rescue team pulled him out of the water, he was pronounced dead.
Body-cam footage released by the Tempe Police Department shows the lead-up to Bickings’ death, in which Tempe police officers responded to some sort of altercation between Bickings and a woman named Susan. She tells the officers they had been having a “conversation,” not a physical confrontation, and that Bickings “didn’t do anything wrong.”
Police then go to talk to Bickings, who after several minutes climbs over a railing that leads to the lake. Asked what he’s doing, Bickings says: “I’m gonna go for a swim. I’m free to go, right?” The officers tell him he’s not allowed to swim in the lake, but Bickings keeps swimming. Eventually he stops and treads water under a pedestrian bridge.
Video shows police discuss the situation from the shore, with one officer telling the others to keep watching Bickings while he calls for a boat. It’s unclear if he actually does call for a boat at this time.
Two officers slowly walk up the bridge. Then Bickings can be heard yelling before the video cuts out. “Due to the sensitive nature of the remaining portion of the recording, a transcript of the sensitive portion of the event is being provided for full transparency,” a video placard states. A local CBS affiliate has published the transcript.
“So what’s your plan right now?” asks an officer.
“I’m going to drown. I’m going to drown,” says Bickings.
The officer tells him “No, you’re not.”
Bickings repeats the he is drowning.
“OK, I’m not jumping in after you” says one of the officers.
“Please help me. Please, please, please,” says Bickings.
Police keep instructing him to swim to a pylon as he continues to ask for help.
Police then argue with Susan, who has approached the bridge. “Stop. Get off of me. He didn’t do nothing wrong,” she says in the transcript. “I love, I love him. Please stop being so aggressive.”
They tell her to “chill out” and “get off of the bridge.”
“Oh my God, is he OK? Stop, why are you doing this? I’m trying to help my fucking, please don’t [inaudible],” Susan continues. She says she’s trying to go over to help Bickings. “He’s drowning, he’s drowning,” she says.
“If you don’t calm down, I’m going to put you in my car,” says one of the officers.
After several more back and forth, one of the offices “OK, the officer is going to get the boat right now.”
It’s unclear what exactly is happening, but one officer in the transcript says to someone “we got the female” who “was trying to jump over the railing.”
“No, I was worried about him. He’s drowning down there,” says Susan. “I’m just distraught because he’s drowning right in front of you and you won’t help.”
One of the officers says, “Mark that he went underneath and hasn’t come up since about 30 seconds ago.” Then the officers continue arguing with Susan.
The whole thing is disturbingly reminiscent of police behavior during the recent mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Police stood around outside the school while the shooter killed children inside and aggressively prevented parents of school children from going in to help.
Police have no legal duty to risk their lives to save lives (“regardless of the fact that most citizens believe that is precisely what all those tax dollars are being spent to ensure,” writes Michael Schaus at The Nevada Independent). Both the Uvalde killings and Bickings’ death serve as disturbing reminders of that. What’s especially chilling is how police in both instances not only failed themselves to help but actively attempted to stop bystanders from helping.
FIRE moves beyond campus. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is rebranding as the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (still FIRE) and expanding its effort to fight for free speech. The new FIRE will “promote greater acceptance of a diversity of views in the workplace, pop culture and elsewhere,” reports Politico. “Part of the push may challenge the American Civil Liberties Union’s primacy as a defender of free speech.”
So, I’m sad to announce the end of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education…but excited to announce the beginning of the Foundation for Individual Rights & EXPRESSION! https://t.co/Ta5SopQQdp see this report @politico by @joshgerstein
— Greg Lukianoff (@glukianoff) June 6, 2022
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