Arizona officers on leave after witnessing man drowning

State and local agencies will investigate the death of a Tempe, Arizona man last month who drowned after police officers who answered a distress call failed to get in the water to continue. close to the man, city and state officials announced Monday.

In the early morning hours of May 28, Tempe Police officers found Sean Bickings, 34, and a woman at a reservoir near the city’s Elmore Pedestrian Bridge, according to a notice from the city of Tempe.

Officers responded to a call about “an alleged fight” between Bickings, whom the city described as “unacceptable,” and his traveling companion. The statement said both Bickings and his partner denied any physical violence had occurred and that neither was under house arrest.

Officials are questioning Bickings and accessing his name through a database to determine if he has any pending warrants, the city said in a statement.

“That inspection had not yet been completed when Bickings decided to slowly climb over the 4-foot metal fence and into the water,” the statement said.

“He swam about 30-40 yards before repeatedly indicating that he was in distress. He quickly sank and did not rise,” the statement continued.

The Tempe Officers Association, which represents Tempe Police Department officers, said in an emailed statement to CNN that the officers had no training in water rescue and did not have the equipment to help. people at risk of drowning.

“Attempting such a high-risk rescue could easily result in the death of someone in the water and the officer could be pulled down by a struggling adult. Officers are trained to call the Rescue Service. fire and or take the Tempe Police boat. That’s what the officers did here,” the statement said.

The Tempe Police Department is conducting an investigation into Bickings’ death, the city said, which could take several weeks, in part because investigators are awaiting the results of a medical examiner’s report. Once that investigation is finished, the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) will review the findings, the city said.

When asked for comment, DPS confirmed it agreed to review the investigation but declined to comment further because the investigation is open and ongoing.

According to the city, the three officers who initially answered the call have been placed on administrative leave without discipline pending the investigation.

Separately, the city said it had asked the nearby Scottsdale Police Department to conduct an administrative review of its “severe incident response” in an effort to maintain “public trust and transparency.” .” That investigation is also expected to take several weeks. Scottsdale Police said its Home Affairs investigators will review the actions of responders in relation to Tempe Police training and policies.

Tempe City Manager Andrew Ching and Sheriff Jeff Glover “believe Bickings’ death is a tragedy,” the city said, adding that Glover had met Bickings’ mother.

CNN has attempted to reach Bickings’ family for comment.

What the police caught on camera

The city has released partial full-body camera footage of the incident from an officer, as well as what it says is a transcript of all conversations from unreleased footage. Remaining camera footage from all three officers will be released later this week, the city said, adding that it “will be edited due to its graphic, sensitive nature.”

In camera footage, Bickings can be seen sitting on a bench and speaking to police as they stand behind him. The cyclists then climbed over the metal fence and entered the reservoir.

At that point, police can be heard telling Bickings “You are not allowed to swim in the lake”, however Bickings continues to enter the water.

The nearly 12-minute video, which also shows what happened between the couple and Tempe police officers, ends before he begins calling for help.

In the remaining video of the city, Bickings says, “I’m drowning. I’m drowning.”

Officers repeatedly told Bickings to swim to the pole and one said, “Okay, I’m not jumping with you,” according to the transcript. Officers asked for a water rescue team to be dispatched and requested help from the fire department, according to the transcript.

In its statement, the police union said the exchange was “largely cordial before Mr Bickings entered the lake.”

“He is free to go at any time,” the union said in a statement. “To see the 11-minute video leading up to Mr. Bickings entering Lake Tempe Town and to understand how this 911 call ended up witnessing such a massive loss of life. as it did.”

The city said it is reviewing water response protocols with Tempe Police and assessing equipment needs for officers and the need to position rescue equipment around bodies of water.

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