Preliminary hearing held for caretakers accused of abusing autistic man

Judge to determine if case moves to trial

SAN DIEGO - Testimony got under way Thursday in a preliminary hearing for two caretakers accused of abusing a 23-year-old severely autistic Valley Center man.

Matthew Alexander McDuffie, 28, and Michael Dale Garritson, 61, face nine years each in state prison if convicted, according to Deputy District Attorney Natalie Villaflor.

McDuffie and Garritson -- held on $1 million bail each -- were taken into custody Sept. 19 after the victim's family handed investigators more than 2,000 individual video recordings of the alleged abuse, according to San Diego County sheriff's Sgt. Mark Varnau. 

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, according to Varnau.

McDuffie and Garritson worked for the victim's family for more than two years, Varnau said.

The mother of the victim said she was shocked when she returned from a trip abroad to find videos of him being punched, kicked and having his eyes “gouged” by McDuffie and Garritson.

Kim Oakley was on the stand for much of day. Several black-and-white video clips that she handed to police were shown in court, with Oakley describing the actions she claims are portrayed in the scenes captured by her nanny-cam.

“I saw Matthew go over to my son, take his foot, with his shoe on and grind it into the top of my son’s foot, “Oakley said on the stand after one video.

After another clip, she said, “I did see my son exhibiting some self-injurious behavior and then I see Michael Garritson dealing with that by gouging him in the eye with his finger.” 

Garritson’s attorney, Michael Washington, challenged Oakley several times during cross-examination.

“Didn’t you edit the videos in this case so you could present this in the best possible light for you?” asked Washington.  “No,” replied Oakley.

“Didn’t you try to present this case in the best possible light for you so that you could get increased benefits from the San Diego Regional Center for the care of your son?” 

“That’s absurd, no,” replied Oakley.

At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing -- which resumes Friday-- Judge Tamila Ipema will decide if enough evidence was presented for the defendants to stand trial.

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