Family of man who drowned in Tempe Town Lake moves forward with lawsuit, asking for $3M in damages

The family of a man who drowned in Tempe Town Lake is moving forward with a lawsuit against the city.

The mother of Sean Bickings filed a notice of claim against the city of Tempe, and the family is asking for $3 million in damages.

Bickings drowned while trying to get away from officers back in May.

"City of Tempe Police Officers stood and watched as Mr. Bickings drowned in Tempe Town Lake, despite the significant danger Mr. Bickings was in and his desperate pleas for help," the notice of claim read.

There was national outrage that officers did not intervene during the drowning.

The notice of claim also alleges that despite a number of drownings at the lake in the past, the city failed to provide personnel with the proper training for water-related emergencies and "negligently failed to provide any form of publicly accessible, lifesaving equipment near Tempe Town Lake."

At the time, the Tempe Officers Association said officers were not trained or equipped to rescue people from drowning.

Tempe did announce new safety measures following the 34-year-old's death, including installing rescue rings around the lake and issuing water rescue "throw bags" for every Tempe police officer.

‘I’m not jumping in after you'

The paddleboarder's rescue happened months after 34-year-old Sean Bickings, who was an "unsheltered Tempe community member," drowned in the lake early in the morning on May 28. Three police officers were placed on administrative leave after transcripts revealed they watched him drown.

The incident began as a reported domestic violence situation at Tempe Beach Park between Bickings and his wife. Both denied that any fight had taken place.

When officers were called, Bickings reportedly tried to run away from them by fleeing into the lake. He was unable to get out of the water, and eventually drowned.

According to the Medical Examiner report, which was signed off in late July, Bickings' death was ruled an accidental drowning. The ME also listed "methamphetamine intoxication" as a contributory cause of death in the report. A toxicology test on Bickings detected methamphetamine in his system.

Bickings' drowning sparked controversy over the officers' actions. According to transcripts released by Tempe Police officials, one of the officers who responded said he was not going to jump in after Bickings.

"I'm drowning," Bickings, noted as ‘victim’ in the transcript, said.

"Come back over to the pylon," an officer, noted as ‘Officer 2' in the transcript, said.

"I can't. I can't (inaudible)," said Bickings.

"OK, I'm not jumping in after you," said an officer who was noted as ‘Officer 1’ in the transcript.

MORE: Tempe Town Lake drowning - Officers back on duty, new water rescue measures enacted

In the aftermath of his drowning, some argued that the officers should have gone into the water and reacted more quickly to save Bickings. Meanwhile, others said that they should not have done so because it would have put even more lives in danger.

An investigation by the Scottsdale Police Department sided with the latter.

"Scottsdale concluded, after speaking to local law enforcement experts in water-related job assignments, that the Tempe officers should not have attempted a rescue by jumping into the water," city officials said. "Several reasons were cited, including the reality that drowning victims can physically overwhelm their rescuers."

The three officers who responded to the call and witnessed Bickings' drowning were placed on non-disciplinary paid administrative leave. As a result of Scottsdale Police's findings, the officers are now back on duty.