Arizona Officers Inaction During Drowning Traces Investigation

PHOENIX (AP) – A Phoenix suburb watches water rescue operations as video of three police officers…

PHOENIX (AP) – A Phoenix suburb watches how it handles water rescues, as video of three police officers standing nearby as a homeless man drowns sparks outrage.

Tempe Police say officers are on paid administrative leave after last month’s drowning in a city lake.

A commotion erupted after Tempe police released edited footage from officers’ body cameras on Friday, as well as a transcript of the May 28 incident.

The video shows Sean Bickings, 34, climbing over a four-foot fence along Tempe Town Lake. An officer tells him that swimming is not allowed. Bickings then goes into the water and begins to swim. Another officer tells the police to keep an eye out for him while he goes to fetch a boat.

The video ends there. But the transcript shows two officers repeatedly telling Bickings to swim to a pylon and “hold it.” Bickings constantly says ‘I can’t’ and begs for help.

At one point, one of the officers says, “I’m not jumping after you.”

Bickings swam a total of about 37 meters under a pedestrian bridge, city officials said.

The Tempe Officers Association said the public should understand that officers are not trained for water rescues. These officers received their training and went to fetch a boat.

In a press release on Monday, the city said officials will re-evaluate protocols surrounding water rescues. They will also look at where to place rescue equipment such as life jackets in relation to the lake or a body of water.

Police initially responded to reports of a brawl just after 5 a.m. between Bickings and a female companion. When questioned, both denied that any physical altercation had taken place. But officers took their names through a background check and found that Bickings had three outstanding house searches.

Authorities say Bickings then climbed over the fence. According to the transcript, his companion, who said Bickings was her husband, tried to go after him, but officers held her back.

Firefighters recovered Bickings’ body and pronounced him dead.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety and the police in the neighboring Scottsdale suburb are investigating the police response.

Police Chief Jeff Glover met with Bickings’ mother last week. She had requested the release of a video, the city said.

Tempe Town Lake is over 2 miles long and was built in 1999 by damming part of the Salt River. It is a popular place for jogging, cycling, kayaking and other recreational activities.

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