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Family of Sean Bickings seeks $3M in wrongful death claim against Tempe

Photo of Sean Bickings drowning
The family of Sean Bickings alleges the city of Tempe and the Tempe Police Department should have done more to save Mr. Bickings when he ultimately drowned in May 2022 at Tempe Town Lake, meanwhile, they say, promised safety improvements have yet to be implemented. (File Photos/DigitalFreePress)

Sean Bickings drowned in Tempe Town Lake in May 2022

By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

The mother of Sean Bickings is seeking $3 million in damages from the city of Tempe as legal representation alleges life-saving actions have not yet been taken to prevent future drowning deaths at Tempe Town Lake.

“If you watch the body camera video these officers are just watching Sean Bickings drown,” said Benjamin Taylor of Phoenix-based Taylor & Gomez, who is representing the mother of Mr. Bickings, Turee Toro.

“Sean Bickings was begging, saying, ‘help me, help me I am drowning!’ The officer was very disrespectful and rude on the body camera — and he just said that I am not doing anything to help.”

The November 2022 wrongful death claim alleges “the city of Tempe is vicariously liable under the theories of respondeat superior, nondelegable duties, agency, and any other applicable legal theories for the actions, inactions, torts, negligence, gross negligence, recklessness, constitutional/legal violations.”

Mr. Taylor contends the city of Tempe and the Tempe Police Department should have done more to save Mr. Bickings when he ultimately drowned in May 2022 at Tempe Town Lake meanwhile promised safety improvements have yet to be implemented, he alleges.

“After a year, these actions have yet to be implemented,” Mr. Taylor said. “Our understanding is that the city is in the process of adding life preservers — right now that is too little, too late.”

The lawsuit alleges on May 28, 2022, a call to police was made by a Downtown Tempe Authority representative at 4:57 a.m. and upon arrival, the court filings state, Tempe police officers encounter Mr. Bickings and his partner, a female, near the Tempe Center for the Arts and Elmore Pedestrian Bridge.

Following police contact, the lawsuit alleges, Mr. Bickings climbs over the rails and enters Tempe Town Lake. Mr. Taylor says the wrongful death lawsuit originally filed in May 2022 against the city of Tempe is awaiting a court date at Maricopa County Superior Court.

“If the officer had a life preserver to throw, Sean Bickings would be alive today,” Mr. Taylor said pointing out a tenet of claims against the city of Tempe.

“We understand there has been a lot of drownings over the years and for Tempe Town Lake to not have devices to save residents is grossly negligent.”

Mr. Taylor, however, admits the city of Tempe has installed some new life preservers since the incident.

“They have installed a few around the lake, but not until we had to file a lawsuit on behalf of Sean Bickings’ family in order for this to be done. It shouldn’t have taken a lawsuit being filed as they city should be doing this on their own.”

Safety improvements at Tempe Town Lake?

Tempe spokesperson Kris Baxter provided the Digital Free Press with information regarding safety improvements now at Tempe Town Lake — one in particular that is making a difference.

A comprehensive plan to install flotation rings at Tempe Town Lake and Kiwanis Park Lake has been implemented meanwhile over the last year Tempe has consulted with experts about products and placement, and upon product delivery they needed to be modified to allow for ADA accessibility.

The rings are now placed at access points of the two lakes. For example, at Tempe Town Lake, they are located at the marina, docks, pedestrian bridge, etc.

Throw bags

As the city of Tempe announced in August 2022, Tempe Police officers now have water rescue throw bags similar to ones used by the U.S. Navy Seals, and they have received training in how to use them.

Tempe Police use of the throw bags has led to seven individuals being rescued since August 2022.

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