SAN LUIS OBISPO (CN) – A man whose uncontrollable hunger drove him to commit burglaries in search of food pleaded no contest Tuesday to five misdemeanors, allowing him to enter a group home for people with his rare eating disorder.
Tyler Jarvis, 20, of Pismo Beach, has Prader-Willi syndrome, a genetic condition that causes its sufferers to feel constant hunger and risk eating themselves to death.
Because Jarvis’s mother locks up their food, he broke into three homes last fall in pursuit of food. In one house he stole items he would need to live on his own, including a sleeping bag, cash and a backpack. Jarvis, who has the IQ of a 10-year-old, believed he could eat whenever he wanted if he were homeless.
One victim, startled to find Jarvis in his home, chased him with a shovel and called police. Jarvis was charged with several offenses, including three felony counts of residential burglary.
His mother, Michelle Christian, worried he would die in jail or prison, where staff would not know how to handle his condition. The San Luis Obispo District Attorney’s Office said Jarvis’s behavior was a danger to himself and others.
As charges were pending, a new group home in Riverside agreed to take Jarvis in. His mother had been trying to get him placed in a home specializing in Prader-Willi for four years, she said, but she found it difficult since the disorder is so rare.
There are only 700 known cases of Prader-Willi in California and 8,000 nationwide. Group homes for Prader-Willi residents typically take only about four people, Christian said. Two residents of the Riverside home had previously gone to a home in Wisconsin due to lack of facilities in California, Christian said.
While the criminal cases stalled Jarvis’s placement, Christian said she would not approve of a plea deal that resulted in a felony conviction.
“We would have gone to trial,” said Christian, who is her son’s conservator.
Jarvis’s attorney, Raymond Allen, wrote in a pretrial motion that Jarvis had a “medical, mental and psychosocial predisposition” to get food.
He negotiated a plea, and the district attorney’s office agreed to restructure the charges if Jarvis could be placed in the group home. Finally, Jarvis pleaded no contest to five misdemeanors, including petty theft, aggravated trespass and attempted trespass. Under terms of the plea, he will serve no jail time but will be on probation for three years.
Deputy District Attorney Caryn Michaels said in court that the plea was fair to everyone. District Attorney Dan Dow then issued a press release, saying the probation requirement would ensure that Jarvis stay in the group home.
“Here, we were very concerned with both the safety of the community from the crime of residential burglary as well as finding an appropriate resolution that takes into account Mr. Jarvis’ genetic disorder that directly contributed to his criminal conduct,” Dow said. “This is an extremely rare fact pattern and I am pleased that we were able to achieve an opportunity for Mr. Jarvis to enter a group home.”
Christian said Jarvis’s record since the crimes shows he wasn’t a threat.
“He hasn’t done anything in the past year,” she said.
Due to his slow metabolism, Christian has to limit her son to 1,400 calories a day – about 1,000 fewer than a normal adult male. Because of his compulsion, she barricades him in her home at night, though he has managed to escape by taking apart deadbolts and crawling out a second-floor window.
With the plea out of the way, Jarvis is set to move into the group home between Nov. 21 and Dec. 7. The home will have three other residents with Prader-Willi syndrome and a staff trained in working with the disorder. The kitchen will be locked, and doors and windows are equipped with alarms should residents try to sneak out.
Jarvis spent a weekend there recently. During the trial run, he attended a dance while dressed as a “Ghostbusters” character and met his future housemates.
“They have a lot of activities there,” he said after his plea, adding that he looks forward to “all my friends I met at the party.”
After nearly 20 years regulating her son’s food and taking measures to keep him from escaping from home, Christian said. she’s happy to have help in a safe environment.
“He’s going to have a team of people,” she said.
Jarvis, who will move five hours from home, said he appreciated his mother’s efforts.
“My mom, she does so much for me,” Jarvis said.
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