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No officers will be charged related to woman’s death in police custody

SAFFORD, Ariz. — There will be no charges for the officers involved in the death of a 28-year-old woman in police custody last year, according to the Arizona Attorney General's office.

The day after Christmas, police say an inmate jumped out of a law enforcement vehicle traveling 35 miles per hour. 

Her death came just days after she alleged she was sexually assaulted by her arresting officer and another officer in the Graham County Jail.

The inmate was Jorden Simms, who would die from a series of head injuries police said were caused by her falling out of the car.

“It hurts so much because my little girl deserved more,” Deborah Sanchez, Jorden Simms' mother, said.

According to police, Simms escaped handcuffs, a belly chain and ankle restraints before jumping out the back seat of the police transport vehicle two blocks from the Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center. 

“We were almost to the hospital and stuff, and all of a sudden, the door opens. These doors aren’t supposed to open from the inside,” the officer who was driving the transport said on body camera footage obtained by 12 News.

Police found later that the child locks meant to keep inmates from opening their own doors, was engaged on the rear passenger side door, but not the driver side door where Simms' sat. 

The officers responsible for transporting Simms used a "swing vehicle" because the normal car that would have been used was in the shop. 

According to Sanchez's attorney, the attorney general's office said the use of this unfamiliar "swing vehicle" is part of the reason why charges were not brought, as they may not have realized how the locks worked. 

“They should at least charge them with endangerment or negligence.” Benjamin Taylor, the family's attorney said. 

“Both these officers have been in this field a very long time. A very long time. And you’re going to sit back and tell me they don’t know how to operate a vehicle,” Sanchez said.

Earlier this year, the case was brought to the attention of former Phoenix Police Commander Jeff Hynes. He was asked how hard it would be to get out of the three restraints.

“Every one of those things is hard, it’s difficult," Hynes said. 

“When you have that many variables that lead to a prisoner escaping, jumping out a vehicle and dying? There is going to be a serious examination of what occurred and did it occur as presented."

According to Hynes, it is the law enforcement agency that has custody of an individual to make sure they stay safe and unharmed.    

"Serious questions are going to be asked. How did this happen? Were the officers watching? Were they attentive?" Hynes said. 

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Taylor said this spring. "They seem to not understand why the doors weren’t locked. That’s their job."

In a statement to 12 News, the Attorney General's office said, “We have completed our review and have concluded no criminal charges are appropriate.”

"I'm not understanding what more do they need?” Sanchez said                       

Body camera footage obtained by 12 News shows the moments after the incident, as police on the scene can be heard asking questions.                      

“She jumped out the back," said Officer Perez, who was one of the two officers transporting Simms.

“She did what?” asked another officer

"She jumped out the back," Perez repeated. 

Simms' family doesn't believe the police. 

"They silenced my daughter," Sanchez, said.          

Just five days before Simms fell out of the police transport, Simms accused her arresting officer of sexually assaulting her. 

After a record request and demand letter from 12 News' attorneys, the Graham County Sheriff's Office handed over jailhouse interviews and phone calls, where Simms described what happened to her in her own words. 

“Please listen to me, I need you now more than ever,” Simms said in a jailhouse phone call to Sanchez.           

The call came on Dec. 23, two days after her arrest by Safford Police Officer Jeremiah French.                 

The case started with a shoplifting call. Documents from the Safford Police Department obtained by 12 News say Simms had been previously arrested for shoplifting.                                       

French responded, but no shoplifted items were found. Instead, French wrote he discovered Simms had a warrant for her arrest in Yavapai County. 

After her arrest, the documents show Simms complained of stomach pain and was taken to the hospital.                    

Simms would tell her mother she was sexually assaulted while she was alone in a hospital room with French for up to 30 minutes.

“He just kept telling me, 'It’s going to be OK, it’s going to be OK, just don’t make me look stupid,” Simms said while describing the events during a forensic interview on Dec. 26, just hours before she allegedly jumped out of police transport.

“He starts just rubbing on my body, on top of my clothes and then he put his hand down farther and in my pants and he starts fingering me,” Simms said. 

Simms would then break down during the forensic interview. 

“I don’t want to talk about it no more, I don’t want to talk about it no more,” Simms said.                          

French did not have his body camera on during the arrest, according to reports.

The documents show French made little mention of the hospital visit. His report mentions Simms met with hospital staff, refused medication and was released back into his custody.

Then, French would take Simms to the jail. 

Video shows Simms tried to make an escape from the jailhouse bay and was wrestled to the ground by French.    

"I ran away from the officer that molested me,” Simms said during the forensic interview.                                          

French is on leave and under investigation. His attorney said in a statement that French adamantly denies all allegations against him. 

His attorney said the DNA results from a sexual assault exam conducted on Dec. 23 will clear French of wrongdoing. 

The exam on Dec. 23 was not provided to 12 News. 

After running from the jail, Simms was "red-tagged," which means she was held in solitary confinement, stripped of her clothes and given only a smock and a blanket.                                   

Simms said when she was brought back to jail, she was assaulted again, this time by a female officer.          

"She told me to go ahead and report it because 'No one would ever believe you,'” Simms said in a forensic interview.

Jailhouse video shows Simms being taken into a holding room before walking into the shower room with a female officer.

The door shuts, and two minutes later, the door opens again. The officer leaves.

During that time, Simms says the female officer assaulted her. The officer denies any wrongdoing. She will not be charged for anything. 

The day after Christmas, Simms was taken back to for another sexual assault exam.                                                                

The same woman did the exams on Dec. 23 and 26.

The examiner said there was additional bruising but no evidence of sexual assault by the female officer.               

But in a phone call, she noted a tear in the genital region had not healed from a previous visit. 

Authored by Michael Doudna 12 News

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