Arizona officers placed on paid leave amid investigation into man's drowning in Tempe

The officers were placed on leave after authorities said they did not intervene as a homeless man drowned in a lake last month.

Updated: June 8, 2022 - 12:39pm

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Three police officers in Tempe, Arizona, have been placed on paid administrative leave after authorities determined that they did not intervene as a homeless man drowned in front of them at the end of May.

The drowning victim, Sean Bickings, 34, voluntarily entered a lake and made his way about 30 years deep before telling the officers he was in distress. He had climbed a four-foot metal fence and entered the water.

"I'm going to drown, I'm going to drown," he said to the officers, according to a transcript of body camera footage released by the Tempe Police Department.

The officers encouraged the victim to swim to a nearby pylon. Bickings said he was unable to do so. 

"I'm not jumping in after you," said one of the officers.

In a statement, the officers then said that Bickings went under the water and did not resurface. 

The police department says it is conducting a death investigation that could potentially take "many weeks" as it awaits medical test results.

The department has also asked the Scottsdale Police Department to conduct an administrative review of the officers' response, which will also take a number of weeks.

The Hill reported that the Tempe Officers Association said the officers had not received water-rescue training, nor were they equipped with tools to assist individuals at risk of drowning. 

"Moving forward, we will work for a change in how the city and [Tempe police] approach potential water incidents in Tempe Town Lake, including instituting training and equipment changes," the group said.  

Bickings was initially approached by the police after they had received a call about an alleged fight between him and an individual who identified herself as Bickings' wife.

The two reportedly cooperated with officers while denying that any physical argument had occurred. Neither was being detained at the time of the incident.

The city said it will release additional, edited body camera footage from the three responding officers later this week.