Unpacking the Brian Simmons story

Brian Simmons under the Christmas tree in his youth. [submitted]

Most of the time, my involvement with a story ends the day we upload the magazine to the printer.

That’s simply not the case with the tale of Brian Simmons, who was shot and killed during an interaction with Maricopa police back in August.

One story will never encompass everything that went on with Simmons.

Justin Griffin

After spending three months interviewing Brian’s family and friends, talking to mental-health professionals and researching documents from the investigation of Brian’s death, the enormity of Brian’s story is overwhelming.

Perhaps most telling was that Brian had 20 interactions with Maricopa police in the eight months leading up to his death.


By reading those reports, it was obvious Brian was on the verge of a mental breakdown.
Everyone who encountered Brian knew that something was off.

Especially the police.

Through interviews obtained by InMaricopa with the police officers involved in Brian’s shooting, it was pointed out that Brian was categorized in house by the Police Department as a potential danger to officer safety.

But the question that came to my mind was, who was looking out for Brian’s safety and well-being?

In 2021, Brian moved to Maricopa, 14 hours from his friends and family in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Brian had no support structure in place here.

People thought he was borderline stupid, or that he had a drug problem.

Neither was the case.

Deep down inside, Brian knew no one really understood.

The thought of dealing with mental illness can be intimidating, but fighting that battle alone had to have been incredibly devastating for Brian.

It’s tempting to focus on the day of Brian’s death, or the radiation exposure at the Idaho National Laboratory years earlier that is believed to have caused the drastic personality change of an All-America kid.

Both situations represent target-rich environments, as they should.

Brian’s family is angry.

They believe their efforts to get him help were thwarted at every turn. They also believe Maricopa police unnecessarily escalated the interaction with Brian that morning, leading to his killing.

But when does brandishing two handguns and a hatchet in front of police officers ever end well?

If that is not mental illness, what is?

The bigger question I examined in my story is how it got to that point.

Brian needed a friend. Through his actions, he was begging for help, for someone to care.

Brian’s family tried to intervene from Idaho but were unable to find an advocate in Maricopa who would effectively help them fight for Brian.

This is one story about one man whose entire family lives two states away. And for some, that might be a good reason to dismiss this cautionary tale about the importance of mental health.

But remember, the shootout that took Brian’s life happened a block away from an elementary school during school hours in a densely populated residential neighborhood.
There was a distinct potential for this situation to have gone way worse than it did.

I covered a lot of ground in my initial package of stories, which were published in the March issue of InMaricopa Magazine and will be published here at InMaricopa.com on March 8. There will be several more, new stories to follow.

There’s still so much more to share, and over the next days and weeks, InMaricopa will continue to tell Brian’s story.

We’ve all been affected by mental illness. It’s not a problem that is going away any time soon.

And there’s no better example of the importance of this than the story of Brian Simmons.

As a society, we must figure out how to better help people who are in crisis. That was the driving force behind producing this package.

Here at InMaricopa, we don’t have the power to write laws. But we do have the ability to educate and inform. And that’s what we will continue to do, hoping it leads to something good.