SAFFORD, AZ — A family is desperately searching for answers after the death of a loved one who was in the custody of the Graham County Sheriff's Office.
The death of Jorden Marie Simms and allegations she made against the officers she was in the custody of, are now at the center of an investigation being conducted by the Arizona Department of Highway Safety.
DPS officials tell ABC15 that at the request of the sheriffs' office, detectives from the Special Investigations Unit are looking into allegations of sexual assault and the in-custody death of Simms.
The family of the 28-year old woman is distraught. In a very emotional post on social media, they are demanding "Justice for Jorden" saying the events narrated to them by the Graham County Sheriff's Office just don't add up.
According to the Graham County Sheriff's Office, Simms was arrested by Safford police on December 21 for shoplifting. She also had an outstanding felony warrant out of Yavapai County involving thefts and drugs.
Simms's aunt Crystal Barnett told ABC15 the theft charge stemmed from Simms taking a car belonging to a family member's friend. Barnett said Simms had struggled with addiction.
In a Facebook post, relatives wrote: "A beautiful mother, daughter, sister, and niece gone too soon. Jorden has battled addiction for several years and has paid dearly for her addiction."
The post goes on to say Simms told detention officers in Graham County that she had been raped by the Safford police officer who had arrested her. Family members say Simms was taken to Sierra Vista for a rape test, and upon her return, she was searched by a female detention officer who sexually assaulted Simms with an unknown object while searching her.
Simms's family says, "For the next several days she pleaded with her mom to get her out of there. She was afraid. She knew something bad was going to happen. Her mom was trying but couldn’t make it happen fast enough."
Barnett said Simms's mother showed up at the Graham County Jail for a scheduled visit on Thursday, December 26 and was told that Jorden was not there and they could not disclose her whereabouts.
Around 10 p.m. that evening the family received a phone call saying their daughter had been involved in an incident and was being flown to Banner-University Medical Center in Tucson.
When the family got to the hospital they say Simms was already brain dead.
So what happened to Jorden Simms?
Graham County Sheriff's officials have put out a press release saying she jumped out of a moving patrol vehicle while being transported to the hospital.
According to the sheriff's office, on the morning of December 26, "It was arranged to have Jorden Simms transported to an advocacy center in Sierra Vista for a specialized examination. The transport was done by a deputy and detention sergeant from the Graham County Sheriff's Office."
The press release goes on to say, "The initial exam was completed and based on a recommendation by a medical professional at the Center, that would require utilizing equipment not available at the advocacy center, arrangements were made to send Jorden Simms to Mt. Graham Regional Hospital before returning to the Graham County Adult Detention Facility."
Deputies have said on the way to the hospital, Simms opened the back door of the Ford Explorer while it was traveling on 20th Avenue, and exited the vehicle. Sheriff's officials say Simms suffered life-threatening injuries "to include a severe head injury" during that incident.
Simm's family took her off life support later that night.
Sheriff's officials say their investigation has uncovered that Simms removed her handcuffs, belly chain and ankle restraints before opening the door.
The press release states, "It was learned staff had loosened the ankle restraints due to Jorden Simms complaining they were rubbing her ankles and causing pain. A small tube of shower gel with the cap open was found in the back seat where Jorden Simms had been seated."
The shower gel was confirmed to be the same type used at the advocacy center, according to the sheriff's office. The press release states the handcuffs, chain, and ankle restraints, along with jail shoes issued to Simms were found in the back of the patrol car.
They also discovered the childproof locks used to prevent rear doors from being opened from the inside was switched to the off position on the side where Simms was sitting. Simms was seated in the rear caged area alone, while the deputies were in the front drivers and passenger seat of the vehicle.
Family members say they want to get to the bottom of what happened to Simms before her sudden death. "It's been incredibly challenging. We are just waiting for the process to get started. We want answers, we know that something is not right with the whole scenario. Jorden was in the grips of addiction, but under that addiction was a kind, loving, funny woman."
"She was a ray of sunshine when she wanted to be," said her aunt in a phone interview with ABC15. "Her life meant something. We want to know how this happened. We want to know what she suffered prior to this event," said Barnett.
The family has set up a fundraiser titled #Justice4Jorden. If you'd like to help, you can visit their GoFundMe page.
In a press release issued Monday afternoon, the Safford Police Department said the officer has been placed on administrative leave.