Tempe releases 3 lengthy body-cam videos of police responding to man drowning in lake

The police boat showed up about 25 minutes after Bickings went into the water.
The police boat showed up about 25 minutes after Bickings went into the water.(Tempe Police Department)
Published: Jun. 14, 2022 at 9:19 PM MST
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TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) — The City of Tempe released new transcripts and three lengthy yet edited body-cam videos on Tuesday over the police department’s response to a man who ended up drowning in Tempe Town Lake late last month. The three body-camera videos are from the three main police officers who responded to the incident. Some of the video was edited, including audio being cut out, “due to its graphic, sensitive nature and out of respect for the wishes,” of the victim’s mother, city officials said in a statement.

The first video is more than two hours long and is the body-cam video from one of the officers who responded to talk to Sean “Madrocks” Bickings and his wife on March 28 around 5 a.m. He talks to the wife before walking over to the other officers talking to Bickings. The officers were called out because the pair had been fighting, and there were allegations that Bickings hit his wife, but she later denied that claim. The officer in the video tells Bickings he can’t swim in the lake and watches him go in. He watches Bickings swim in the lake, and a minute after jumping in, radios in that Bickings is swimming away. They believed he jumped into the lake because he had warrants out for his arrest. About 17 minutes into the video, a slate comes up and says the sensitive portion of the video will be provided in a transcript. From about 5:14 a.m. to 5:22 a.m., the video is cut out. The officer is then on the pedestrian bridge, talking to other officers about what happened. A paramedic shows up about 11 minutes after Bickings goes into the water and the officer again explains what happened. Sirens can be heard in the background, and a fire truck is in the distance.

The firefighter said the police boat, which had been called, would have to go where they think the body is first before fire crews can bring their boat around. The officer then points to another officer to show where Bickings went down in the water. The audio is then cut nearly 23 minutes into the two-hour video. The officer stays on the pedestrian bridge until about an hour and 40 minutes into the video, when he grabs a bag from his police SUV. He puts Bickings’ belongings in the bag and later sits down on a bench. Click/tap here to watch the full video. The transcript of the video that was edited out can be found below.

The second video is from another responding officer. Her body-cam video shows her talking to the wife for a few minutes. She then sees Bickings go into the water. The officer goes on the pedestrian bridge. “We’re getting the boat out,” she says before the video fades to black. The same slate shows up about a transcript available, and the video was edited due to its sensitive nature. From about 5:14 a.m. to 5:23 a.m. the video is cut out. The video then shows the officer trying to put the hysterical wife into a police SUV. Once that is done, the officer joins about six first responders on the pedestrian bridge. She goes between her SUV and the pedestrian bridge a few more times. About 30 minutes into the video, the audio is off. She talks to some more officers and a City of Tempe host services staff member. About 90 minutes into the video, the audio returns, and the officer tells another officer about how the wife was planning to jump into the water to save Bickings. “She just became a hindrance at that point,” the officer said. The officer tries to get the wife some mental help, but she says she doesn’t want to go. The officer then talks to more officers on the bridge about what happened. They ask if the wife knows Bickings is dead. She said she told the wife that he didn’t resurface when another officer said the wife knows he’s dead. “She said he’d rather die than go to prison,” the officer said. Click/tap here to watch the full video. The transcript of the video that was edited out can be found below.

The third body-cam video is from an officer who first talked to Bickings. The officer wants to get Bickings’ name, but he refuses. After a while, he finally gets the name, and the officer talks to the officers about the fight. About 10 minutes into the video or at 5:12 a.m., Bickings goes over the railing and onto some cement. “You can’t swim in the lake, man!” said the officer. About 30 seconds later, Bickings is seen going into the water and swimming. The officer then walks over to his SUV and drives to the south side of the lake to where the police boat is. Another officer eventually joins him. At about 5:23 a.m., the two officers are in the boat and going out on the water. The audio is mostly cut out during this time. The boat makes several stops, and a third officer joins them on the boat. The audio is cut out during this time, and no transcript was released. At about 5:38 a.m., they get to the pedestrian bridge where Bickings was last seen. After some circling around, they go to a nearby ramp around 5:50 a.m., where they stay for about 20 minutes. They go back out on the water near the pedestrian bridge and talk to officers on the bridge, but there’s no audio in the video. The video ends after about 80 minutes, or around 6:20 a.m. Click/tap here to watch the full video.

The incident created controversy as officers stood on land while Bickings struggled in the water. A transcript had Bickings’ last words, “I’m drowning, I’m drowning.” After an officer guides him to a pylon, Bickings says he can’t make it; the officer replies, “Okay, I’m not jumping in after you.” The Tempe Officers Association, in a statement, said the officers have no training in water rescues or have any equipment to do so. Those officers, the association said, are at risk of drowning themselves if they tried to save Bickings. So instead, those officers called in a police boat which is the correct protocol. The association also said the officers could not detain Bickings since he and his wife denied a physical fight.

Arizona’s Family has requested the unedited body camera footage from the City of Tempe, and so far, it has not been released. The officers involved are on administrative leave during the investigation. Tempe officials have asked the Arizona Department of Public Safety to investigate the police response to the drowning. The Scottsdale Police Department is conducting an administrative review of the critical incident response. It could take weeks for the death investigation to finish due to the medical examiner and toxicology results.