Hearing begins for caretaker accused of abusing autistic 23-year-old

Michael Garritson faces charges of willful cruelty

VISTA, Calif. - Opening statements began Monday in the trial of a North County caretaker who, along with another man, was allegedly caught on surveillance video abusing a 23-year-old severely autistic man for whom they
were hired to care.

Michael Dale Garritson, 62, pleaded not guilty to multiple felony charges of willful cruelty to a dependent adult. Co-defendant Matthew Alexander McDuffie will be tried separately and is scheduled to appear in court later this month.

The men each face nine years in prison if convicted in their respective trials, according to Deputy District Attorney Natalie Villaflor.

Garritson, a licensed registered nurse, and McDuffie, a medical assistant, worked for the victim's family in Valley Center for more than two years, according to San Diego County sheriff's Sgt. Mark Varnau.

They were taken into custody Sept. 19 after the victim's family handed investigators more than 2,000 individual video recordings of the alleged abuse of Jamie Oakley, he said.

Over a three-week period in August, the family set up a surveillance video system in the victim's bedroom. The victim is severely autistic and does not speak, Varnau said.

The alleged abuse included slapping, kicking and punching. It was unclear whether any permanent damage was done to Oakley, who was 23 at the time.

Monday, the victim's mother said her son is unable to speak because of his developmental delays and often hits himself.

"He has the cognitive ability of approximately an 8-month-old to a 3-year-old... he's very infantile-like in that I mean he depends on us for total care," said Jamie's mother, Kim Oakley.

Garritson's attorney, Michael Washington, said his client was doing "his best to provide care to a young man who’s the greatest danger to himself."

The court went into recess at 12 p.m. Monday. They will return after lunch and testimony from the victim's mother will resume.

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