Christopher Lambeth is accused of the horrific murder of a fellow resident in a group home in Gilbert on April 12. There is no doubt this will spark public debate about the risks associated with group homes in residential areas, solidifying the position for Not-In-My-Backyard, or NIMBY, understandably so. The public deserves an expectation from our elected officials at the state and local levels to ensure the utmost standards of safety in our cities and neighborhoods. People living with disabilities like serious mental illness deserve to be provided for with dignity and in a safe environment.
Before this preventable tragedy occurred, the Association for the Chronically Mentally Ill was already working on a solution: reform Arizona’s Psychiatric Security Review Board, Christopher Lambeth murdered his own grandparents in 2005. Because Christopher was found guilty except insane, he fortunately was committed to the Arizona State Hospital, not an Arizona prison. As someone who was so gravely ill, Lambeth deserved treatment, not punishment and a life behind bars. But the public and taxpayers also deserve safety and accountability from the state agency, the Psychiatric Security Review Board, charged with deciding when individuals sent to the state hospital for treatment are safe to be released and monitoring individuals released into the community.
The Psychiatric Security Review Board decided to release Lambeth to a group home in August of 2020, and his treatment then fell to his serious mental illness clinic and treatment team in Tucson. In August of 2020, Lambeth asked the board to let him move to Phoenix. He wanted to live alone, but a “transitional” plan placed him in a group home with only eight hours a day of staff on site. The Psychiatric Security Review Board made this decision without even hearing from a psychiatrist and without having an assessment of Lambeth’s risk of living with such minimal supervision. The entire hearing on Lambeth lasted about 20 minutes.
Moving to Phoenix meant a change in clinics and treatment team contracted through Phoenix-based Mercy Care. After the change, Lambeth’s treatment team was supposed to provide monthly reports to the Psychiatric Security Review Board. How many reports, if any, were provided on Lambeth and whether they were reviewed are unknown. But between August and the grisly murder, Lambeth did not re-appear before the board.
For over two years, and after a state audit two years ago that found problems in the way the board operates, Association for the Chronically Mentally Ill has been seeking to reform the board. All efforts to improve the board’s effectiveness and accountability are met with opposition from the board, especially Dr. James Clark, the board’s chairman.
Arizona citizens deserve better; taxpayers deserve better; the other residents of group homes and our neighborhoods deserve better.
Pending before the Legislature are two bills, SB1029 and SB1030, both introduced by Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, a tireless advocate for safety and better services for individuals living with serious mental illness. SB1029 requires more information and reports for the board to ensure that it treats patients fairly and protects the public. The board now operates without enough information on patients when it makes decisions. The bill proposes a retired judge be the judge, so the board operates by fair rules.
Because the Psychiatric Security Review Board opposes any changes and claims that it operates perfectly, SB1030 terminates the board and sends the functions that the board performs to the Superior Court in each county. This saves the state money and will ensure that patients get a fair hearing in front of a judge who follows the law.
Both bills passed out of the Senate and all House committees. They are currently waiting to go to the House floor for a vote.
You can help by calling and emailing your Arizona representatives and urge them to support SB1029 and SB1030. This victim’s life mattered.
Deborah Geesling and Holly Gieszl are founding members of the Association for the Chronically Mentally Ill.