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Mid-morning gunfire in the Hillcrest neighborhood of Little Rock on a spring Saturday earlier this year drew more than attention to a crime scene. The startling incident drew attention to the sometimes chaotic intersection between the legal system and mental health care.

Corey Alexander, 46, was arrested and charged with first degree murder and first degree grievous bodily harm in the shooting of her elderly parents. Ray Alexander, 83, was killed and Charlotte Alexander, 77, was seriously injured.

Was the tragic event destined to unfold as it did? Or was it a system failure, a possibly avoidable outcome had state mental health laws received overdue attention?

Even now, Arkansas lawmakers are beginning the process of gathering information to improve state law regarding the treatment of mentally ill citizens. The Mental Health and Behavioral Health Task Force was created to develop policy proposals that will help address regulatory gaps.

Potential changes could stem from real-life scenarios such as the deadly havoc at Alexander’s home on April 23. The violence marked the second time the family’s private drama spilled into public view.

Fifty days earlier, Ray Alexander had tried to get a court order to force his daughter into temporary detention in a treatment center because she posed a threat to herself and others.

corey alexander

His March 4 petition to have Corey Alexander involuntarily committed to drug treatment reads like a foreshadowing of the tragedy that followed. Part of his Pulaski County Circuit Court filing reads:

“She is addicted to methamphetamine. She does meth every day. She is extremely psychotic, murderous and suicidal. She says she has no intention of quitting drugs. She’s not in her right mind right now. She thinks her mother and I are dead.

“Yesterday while I was replacing a window in her flat, she was crazy beyond her wildest dreams. She was talking about planning our funeral. She claims she ordered guns and was talking out of sorts.

“I’ve never seen her act like that or talk like that. She exhibits strange and bizarre behavior and bipolar tendencies. She has mood swings.

“She scares us. She threatens and says she wants to kill people she thought killed us. She thinks me and her mother are imposters. She is very delusional and paranoid. She threatens to kill me and her mother because she thinks we are imposters and not her parents.

Ray Alexander

Despite his fear that his daughter poses a danger, the Little Rock businessman’s efforts to get her involuntarily admitted for treatment have evaporated.

At a hearing on March 9, Corey Alexander consented to the voluntary admission, which ended the involuntary action. In his brief order dismissing the case, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Shawn Johnson cited § 20-47-224. This statute reads as follows:

“At any time during the period of involuntary admission, a person may be converted to voluntary admission if their attending physician or attending psychiatrist files a written statement of consent with the court.

“The court dismisses the action immediately after filing the statement.”

“It’s standard procedure when we get these consents to process hearings,” said Margaret Lickert, assistant prosecutor for involuntary admissions in Pulaski County. “Involuntary requests are rejected according to law.”

The provision requiring dismissal of the involuntary action should be amended to give the judge more leeway in determining the best course, some say.

“The law needs to be rewritten,” said Bettina Brownstein, a Little Rock attorney. “Arkansas’ mental health laws are shameful.”

Once the playing field changes from involuntary to voluntary, the case moves out of the court system and into the health care system.

“Lawyers and judges have nothing to do with it anymore,” said Russell Bynum, a Little Rock attorney. “What happens after that is between the patients and their healthcare providers.”

Had the case gone the involuntary route, Alexander could have been admitted to a designated treatment facility for up to 21 days. The law requires that within 48 hours of admission, an assessment be completed. The treatment team can ask the court for an additional 45 days of treatment.

It’s unclear what happened in the six weeks between Corey Alexander’s treatment hearing and his arrest. Did she abandon her voluntary treatment or did she complete it?

Besides murder and assault, Alexander is also charged with theft of property and breaking and entering. She is awaiting trial at the Pulaski County Detention Center.

Improve the system

The mental health/behavioral health working group is organized to address seven areas for improving the system. Each reflects a subgroup of legislators focusing on a given issue.

Access to high-quality services: Focus on removing barriers to mental health services, integrated behavioral health services, crisis services and specialized psychiatric emergency care.

Substance Abuse/Concurrent Disorders: Focus on Access to Evidence –

services based on the treatment of people in need or suffering from two or more substance use disorders and mental disorders.

Tariffs, regulations, efficiency and bed availability: Focus on the impact of tariff changes on service delivery, examine opportunities for efficiency and the need for regulation, and address the issue of bed availability.

Suicide Prevention: Emphasize suicide prevention efforts through education and recognition of warning signs.

Services for Special Populations: Focus on the needs of high users of mental health services, including those who are non-residential, with frequent interactions with law enforcement, or in transition and crisis.

Prevention and early intervention: Focus on the services needed to meet mental health needs early (from birth to adolescence) and on the support services that offer the best chance of having good mental health.

Workforce Development: Focus on Arkansas’ ability to meet the growing need for mental health services, that is, to close the gap between needs and providers.

State Rep. Nicole Clowney, D-Fayetteville, is one of many lawmakers participating in the group from across the state.

“I hope we do better with our people,” Clowney said of the need for better mental health laws and policies. “It’s a crisis in Arkansas and it’s only getting worse. We have to do something to intervene.

The slain father was involved in more than a few business ventures

Raymond Alexander’s obituary noted his involvement in various endeavors during his life. He and his father started Alexander Inc., billed as the first automatic transmission rebuilder west of the Mississippi River.

The 83-year-old was also credited with helping found Electric Cowboy, Advance Fiberglass Inc., FIB-R-DOR Inc. and Action Industrial Contractors.

In addition to these entries, he was instrumental in forming Acadian Technologies, a custom fiberglass manufacturer in North Little Rock, now run and owned by his son, R. Bryce Alexander.