Plea bargain for Pismo man with rare eating disorder was the right move

Tyler Jarvis, who has Prader-Willi Syndrome, sits with his mom, Michelle Christian, at their Pismo Beach home.
Tyler Jarvis, who has Prader-Willi Syndrome, sits with his mom, Michelle Christian, at their Pismo Beach home. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The criminal case against Tyler Jarvis ended as well as could be expected, with a plea bargain that allowed him to escape a felony conviction.

Jarvis, a 20-year-old Pismo Beach man, has Prader-Willi syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that, among other symptoms, drives him to obsessively forage for food. Last fall, he managed to escape from his house — where his mother keeps food under lock and key — and broke into three South County residences in an attempt to satisfy his insatiable craving for food.

Jarvis, who has the mental capacity of a 10-year-old, was arrested and initially charged with three felonies, which some members of the community viewed as a huge miscarriage of justice.

This week, Jarvis was allowed to plead no contest to five misdemeanors. As a condition of the plea bargain, he’ll enroll in a group home for people with Prader-Willi.

The District Attorney’s Office merits a bouquet for ultimately doing the right thing. We understand this was not an easy case for the prosecution, which sought to protect the public and also to protect Jarvis, who could easily be injured or even killed in a future burglary.

However, we’re troubled that Jarvis and others like him are funneled into the criminal system because we lack a more compassionate and appropriate way to deal with them. That’s not an indictment of law enforcement or the District Attorney’s Office, but rather, a reflection of the need for systemic change.

Sadly, this is by no means an isolated case. The head of the national Prader-Willi Syndrome Association told us that it’s not uncommon for people with the syndrome to be criminally prosecuted for stealing food. He also said California is more enlightened than some of the other states when it comes to handling such cases.

That’s frightening, because as we’ve seen here, California isn’t as progressive as it could be. It’s time that changed.

Are you listening, legislators?

Remember: Secret taping is against the law

It may be old-fashioned, but when we want to remember something, we write ourselves a note on the off chance that we’ll remember to read it.

It’s not the most efficient system, but at least it’s legal, which is more than we can say for a memory-jogging technique allegedly practiced by a maintenance supervisor at the San Luis Obispo County’s Office of Education.

Bill Barnhill is accused of secretly recording conversations with three employees, who have filed claims against him.

Barnhill told the county schools’ HR chief that he recorded conservations so he could remember what was discussed, according to internal emails obtained by The Tribune. He hadn’t realized that he first needed to obtain consent from the employees before he taped them. (Note to HR Department: You may want to add eavesdropping to your employee training manual.)

The three employees — two custodians and a groundskeeper — who filed the claims also allege that Barnhill and his lead custodian harassed them by showing up at their job sites late at night to purposely startle them.

Mind you, not one of these allegations has been proven, so we’ll hold on to our brickbats for the time being and write ourselves a note to keep tabs on the case. Could you remind us of that?

Singing her way to the Big Apple

We toss a bouquet of trumpet vines and bellflowers to 14-year-old Hannah Fowler, a freshman at San Luis Obispo High School who was chosen to sing at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

Hannah, who has been singing since she was 3, was one of 750 high school students chosen from a field of more than 18,000 vocalists and instrumentalists. She’ll perform as first alto with the Honors Women’s Choir on Feb. 7 at Carnegie Hall.

Luckily, local residents don’t have to wait that long or travel that far to hear Hannah and other talented vocalists from the area. Hannah is a member of the Central Coast Children’s Choir, which will perform Dec. 12 and 13 at United Methodist Church. For more information, visit www.centralcoastchildrenschoir.org.