Mother of man who drowned in Tempe Town Lake plans to file wrongful death lawsuit

Sean "Madrocks" Bickings drowned in Tempe Town Lake on May 28.
Sean "Madrocks" Bickings drowned in Tempe Town Lake on May 28.(Family/Tempe Police Department)
Published: Dec. 8, 2022 at 6:08 PM MST
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TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) — The mother of the man who went into Tempe Town Lake to get away from police and drowned plans to sue the city for $3 million. Lawyers for Turee Toro filed a notice of claim on Nov. 15 regarding the death of her son, 34-year-old Sean “Madrocks” Bickings. According to the court paperwork, the officers showed “callous indifference” regarding Bickings needing help while in the water on May 28. Officers first talked to Bickings because he had been fighting with his wife and alleged that he hit her, which she later denied. Then, in order to get away from officers, Bickings went over the railing and slid into the water.

Body-cam video shows an officer telling Bickings he’s not allowed to 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. Toro’s lawyers criticized the officers for not trying to stop him from going over the railing. According to transcripts of unreleased body-cam footage, Bickings gasps, “I’m gonna drown,” and an officer replies, “No, you’re not.” Another officer told Bickings to swim to a pylon, and Bickings said he couldn’t. “I’m not jumping in after you,” replied another officer. The notice of claim said there was a call from the Tempe Fire-Medical Rescue Department about 15 minutes after Bickings went into the water that said, “Stand down-not sending ayone in the water.” About 10 minutes later, the police boat got to the east side of the bridge but couldn’t fit under it to get to the west side, and the fire department boat wouldn’t fit either, court documents said, citing the police report.

The notice of claim says despite previous drownings at Tempe Town Lake, the fire and police departments failed to train and equip first responders with rescue devices and pointed to other cities that have procedures and training for water-related emergencies. Since Bicking’s drowning, Tempe requires officers to carry water rescue throw bags. In addition, water rescue rings with 100-foot ropes were installed around the lake and Kiwanis Lake.

At the time of the drowning, the city said it wasn’t the correct procedure for officers to jump in after people in the water, and the officers did the right thing in calling for a boat to rescue Bickings. Toro’s lawyers reject that argument, pointing to when two Tempe officers helped rescue a dog from a canal by holding onto a good Samaritan who saved the dog. It happened 11 days before Bickings drowned. The notice of claim called the officers’ actions near Bickings “negligent, gross negligent, reckless, and/or deliberately indifferent.” The documents say Toro suffers from constant mental and emotional anguish since her son’s death was “completely avoidable,” and that’s why they’re asking for $3 million.

The city acknowledged the notice of claim was filed but said it couldn’t comment on pending litigation.