GILBERT, Ariz. — The town of Gilbert is taking action after the resident of a group home was killed in April.
The scene is still tough for Gilbert Mayor Brigette Peterson to stomach.
"A mayor never wants to hear that there's a murder in her community," said Peterson. "It just always hurts your heart when you hear something like that."
Death at Tilda Manor
Group home resident Christopher Lambeth is accused of bludgeoning another resident, Steven Howells, to death on April 12.
Police records show Lambeth admitted he killed Howells on the scene but later pleaded "not guilty" after he was arrested and booked in county jail on a second-degree murder charge.
Lambeth had been convicted of murder before, for killing his grandparents more than a decade ago in Pima County.
In that case, he pleaded "guilty except insane" and was sentenced to 25 years to life at the Arizona State Hospital for treatment. Records show he was released early to the community by Arizona's Psychiatric Security Review Board and lived at Tilda Manor from around 2018 to the day Howells was killed.
And where he was living, Tilda Manor near E Wildhorse and E Capps drives, is well-known to the Gilbert Police Department.
Dozens of police calls
A 12 News investigation found that police were called to the Tilda Manor on Wildhorse Drive 91 times from 2017 to the end of September.
"There's been attempted suicides, there's been fights, there's been mental health issues," Peterson said, referring to the kinds of calls her town's officers would run at the home.
The 911 calls from Tilda Manor don’t top the list.
According to Gilbert police data, some behavioral health group homes in Gilbert had more than 200 police calls in the past four years, some averaging multiple calls a week.
"And anytime the PD is spending time at a home like this, or recovery residents, they're not able to be out on the streets for other things that are going on in our community," Peterson said.
At this point, there’s no rule that law enforcement has to report calls for service to the Arizona Department of Health Services, the agency that licenses group homes in Arizona.
But Mayor Peterson says her department is changing that in the wake of the Tilda Manor murder.
"We've actually changed our process in Gilbert, that Gilbert is going to report the number of times that they're responding to a group home to the state of Arizona, so that they know," said Peterson. "It's a great way to handle that."
She said she and other officials have had a meeting with ADHS to try and figure out best practices going forward.
"Hopefully we can be an extension of their department here in our community and keep an eye on these homes and these residents for them," the mayor added.
Gilbert can’t act on its own. For months, neighbors have been pushing for the home to be shut down. But the town’s hands are tied due to state and federal housing laws.
Only the state can shut the home down and in this case, following the homicide, ADHS has filed to revoke the license at Tilda Manor on Wildhorse Drive.
ADHS told 12 News they do work with municipalities on these sorts of issues. The state said it could not talk about the murder investigation at Tilda Manor but could speak generally about the state's role in licensing and oversight.
"A lot of the times those 911 calls are perfectly appropriate for local law enforcement or for fire to take a look at," explained Colby Bower, who oversees licensing as part of his role with ADHS. "They may be issues that aren't within the licensure realm."
The state licenses and inspects hundreds of residential facilities, ranging from nursing homes to behavioral health facilities like Tilda Manor. When we asked who should be responsible for ensuring residents are safe, the state said that falls to the owner.
"By Arizona law, it's the folks that actually run the homes," Bower explained. "And, you know, ultimately, the licensees are responsible for that."
Tilda Manor responds
The state’s investigation found more than 20 violations at Tilda Manor after the homicide, including a finding that staff members broke protocol by leaving Lambeth inside, unsupervised, with eight other residents.
Back in August, the state filed to revoke Tilda Manor's license. Since then, Tilda Manor has filed to appeal the intent to revoke.
Originally, a hearing was set for September, but Tilda Manor requested more time ahead of the hearing, which is now set for November. In the meantime, the company is still able to operate all five of its East Valley locations.
Earlier this month, the family of Howells filed a lawsuit against Tilda Manor over his death.
For about six months, Tilda Manor hadn't responded to any requests for comment by the 12 News I-Team. But last week, someone from Tilda Manor sent a statement regarding the new lawsuit:
“Tilda Manor is aware of the lawsuit, and intends to defend itself to the fullest. Tilda Manor continues to believe that its staff acted reasonably under the extreme circumstances. Tilda Manor thinks it’s unfortunate that a lawsuit has been filed based largely on media reports that don’t represent the actual events or situation.”
An attorney for Howells' family said he couldn't comment on the lawsuit he filed. The lawsuit claims Tilda Manor failed to provide services for not only Howells but for suspect Lambeth that ultimately led to Howells' death.
"I would like to see this home closed down," said Peterson."I think that when you have an issue, to this extent, in a recovery residence like this, that there should be no question that it should shut down. And if the owner would be willing to do that, I would be very pleased with that."
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