Crime

Man with Prader-Willi syndrome must stay on probation, SLO judge rules

Tyler Jarvis and his mother, Michelle Christian, in front of the Tradewinds Home, a 24-hour residential care facility for people with Prader-Willi syndrome, in Riverside County on Monday.
Tyler Jarvis and his mother, Michelle Christian, in front of the Tradewinds Home, a 24-hour residential care facility for people with Prader-Willi syndrome, in Riverside County on Monday. mfountain@thetribunenews.com

A Pismo Beach man with a rare eating disorder that compelled him to burglarize an Arroyo Grande home in search of food in 2014 will remain on local probation, despite living under lock and key in a 24-hour residential care facility more than 250 miles away, a San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge ruled Thursday.

Tyler Jarvis, 20, lives with Prader-Willi syndrome, a life-threatening genetic disorder that causes uncontrollable hunger, among other symptoms. His story has been featured in People Magazine and the TV show “The Doctors.”

People with the disorder typically have low muscle tone, short stature, low IQ and obsessive thinking. Many also have a low threshold for pain and body temperature abnormalities, in addition to the permanent hunger.

Jarvis originally faced four felonies and four misdemeanors, but the San Luis Obispo District Attorney’s Office agreed in November to allow him to plead no contest to five misdemeanors, including counts of petty theft, aggravated trespass and attempted trespass.

Under the terms of his plea, however, Jarvis was required to find and move into a home that specializes in caring for people with the disorder. Given the small number of people with Prader-Willi — roughly 8,000 across the U.S. — only about 20 such homes exist in California.

The safety concerns for this individual are nonexistent.

Raymond Allen, Tyler Jarvis’ attorney

In December, Jarvis moved into a home in Menifee in southwestern Riverside County that is run by the residential care and assisted living service provider People’s Care Inc. In the house, he lives with two other young adults with the disorder and is supervised at all times by staff members to ensure that he and the others do not overeat.

On Monday, Jarvis told The Tribune that he loves his new home and his housemates and feels safer knowing his caretakers are always there to keep the symptoms of his disorder from controlling his actions.

Jarvis’ attorney, Raymond Allen, filed a motion in San Luis Obispo Superior Court in March, requesting Jarvis’ three-year term of formal probation be terminated on the basis that he’s living in a secure residential treatment facility in another county, likely for life, with no opportunity to burglarize another home.

If successful, ending his probation would be the first step toward having his convictions expunged from his record. Jarvis said he wants to attend adult school to earn certification in early childhood education in order to someday work with kids.

“The change is because he’s doing really well. It’s clear he’s supervised and that there’s no chance of him getting out,” Allen said. “He’s in a situation that is perfect for him, and he’s flourishing.”

He added: “The safety concerns for this individual are nonexistent.”

The People just don’t feel comfortable changing the status quo.

Deputy District Attorney James Graff-Radford

Deputy District Attorney James Graff-Radford, however, argued before Superior Court Judge Gayle Peron on Thursday that the plea deal reduced felony charges to misdemeanors on the condition that Jarvis remain on formal probation for three years. Under formal probation, the probationer is required to report periodically to an assigned probation officer.

Graff-Radford said San Luis Obispo authorities want to ensure Jarvis remains in the home for at least the three years.

“Given the defendant’s condition, the People believe it’s necessary in this case,” Graff-Radford said. “The People just don’t feel comfortable changing the status quo.”

It sounds like he’s in a wonderful place but ... one can’t anticipate what’s going to happen in the future.

San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Gayle Peron

Peron, who indicated from the beginning of the hearing that she was reluctant to terminate anyone’s probation so soon after a conviction, ultimately said Jarvis’ needs were too significant and it was too early to tell whether he would be successful in the home in the long run.

“It sounds like he’s in a wonderful place but … one can’t anticipate what’s going to happen in the future,” Peron said.

“But maybe in the not-so-distant future, the court might consider (hearing the matter again).”

“Thank you, your Honor. We’ll try again later,” Allen said.

Outside the courtroom, Jarvis’ mother, Michelle Christian of Pismo Beach, shook her head in disbelief.

“It’s like checking in on someone who’s already in jail,” she said. “We’ll give it another shot later, I guess. It just seems like a waste of the People’s time.”

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