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‘We’re outside waiting’: 911 calls released in Gilbert group home murder

GILBERT, Ariz. — It's a sight neighbors see often. Police cars outside the Tilda Manor group home on Wildhorse Drive in Gilbert.

But this scene was different than others before it. This one turned deadly.

The details are grisly - one group home resident accused of brutally killing another resident inside. The scene unfolded about two weeks ago.

And now, we’re hearing a staff member’s reaction when he first realized something was very wrong.

OPERATOR: Sir, we have a bad connection. Where are you at? 3583 East Wildhorse?

It’s hard to hear, but a staff member at the Tilda Manor group home called 911 at 5:29 a.m. on Monday April 12.

OPERATOR: I’m sorry I’m having a hard time understanding you. What did he do?

CALLER: I said one of our clients just attacked us.

OPERATOR: Okay.

CALLER: It’s a group home.

The staff member says he’s on the outside and that one of the residents, Christopher Lambeth, is inside.

OPERATOR: We have officers on the way. Does anybody need medical? Do you need the paramedics to come check on you?

CALLER: No, not yet. We’re outside waiting. Just the police.

OPERATOR: Just the police? Okay. Where is your client now?

CALLER: He’s inside the house. We’re outside waiting.

When police get there, they find someone did need help. Another resident, Steven Howells, was found bludgeoned to death. Court documents say Lambeth admitted to killing him and was arrested on the scene.

Neighbors knew this was a group home, but didn’t know Lambeth, with a troubled history, lived inside.

He was previously convicted in 2007 for murdering his grandparents in 2005. He plead "guilty except insane" and served time at the Arizona State Hospital before he was ultimately released to Tilda Manor, despite a life sentence to treatment at the state hospital.

It's not clear when he first started living at Tilda Manor, but minutes from the state's Psychiatric Security Review Board show he could have been in a residential facility as early as 2017.

OPERATOR: How is he going to react to my officers? Is he going to be cooperative for my officers? Is he going to be hostile toward my officers?

CALLER: Actually, I don’t know because right now he’s kind of violent.

This Tilda Manor facility is licensed to be a 24/hour supervision facility, meaning qualified staff should be on site at all times.

It’s not clear if any employees were inside at the time Lambeth allegedly killed Howells. Lambeth told police they were the only ones inside when he did it.

"There should be enough staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week,' says Asim Dietrich, a staff attorney with the Arizona Center for Disability Law.

Dietrich, who is not connected to this case, says the state has each facility set their own rules when it comes to staffing, so long as they can provide adequate treatment and ensure safety.

Back in December, this Tilda Manor location was fined by the state for leaving a resident unsupervised.

"Why weren’t there more precautions taken to keep people safe, not only in that house but in our neighborhood?" asks a neighbor.

Despite several requests, Tilda Manor has not provided any information to 12 News about its care plan. A lawsuit filed against Tilda Manor in 2010 reveals at that time the organization's own plan required two staff members to be on site at all times.

The lawsuit came in response to a death at a different Tilda Manor care facility. Tilda Manor has 5 locations in the East Valley.

In 2009, court records showed that a resident at another location in Gilbert died by suicide. His family sued Tilda Manor and the owners, Grace and Samuel Ashu, claiming the facility was understaffed and that the resident should have had more supervision at the time he died.

The Ashus denied the claims and the lawsuit was eventually dismissed.

Online, a job description for a Tilda Manor employee says they need a fingerprint clearance card from the state and training in crisis prevention. They should be also be able to “recognize, prevent and respond” when a resident may be a “danger to self or others," but should call 911 if the crisis is “uncontrollable.”

The town of Gilbert says police responded to this Tilda Manor location 115 times since 2016.

CALLER: Yeah. He’s in a group home.

OPERATOR: Do you know what he has?

CALLER: (period of silence)

The staff member who called for help the morning of the murder couldn’t answer questions about Lambeth’s health, saying he hadn’t been at the facility for very long.

Tilda Manor is a state-licensed facility and the neither the state, nor Tilda Manor have commented on the murder investigation.

A spokesperson for the Department of Arizona Health Services told 12 News they'd respond to our questions Thursday.

Authored by: Erica Stapleton, 12 News

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