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Walter Mencken 2 p.m., May 28
An Escondido police investigator said a woman brought computer parts to him inside a kitchen waste bin. “The card was in pieces when it was presented to me. I believe it was in the trash can.”
Detective Damon Vandervorst said he went to the home of Mrs. Kim Oakley to retrieve more video evidence, after the woman made a report of abuse against a caregiver she had hired for her disabled son, and first provided two short video clips. Mrs. Oakley claimed a Registered Nurse mishandled her 23-year-old autistic son, James Gilbert Oakley.
The detective said the woman told him her computer was overheating when she pulled the “card” out and “it just fell apart.” But the computer expert said he looked at the damaged card and noted it had been “cut” with some kind of straight edge.
In a jury trial last week, another computer expert gave his opinion that both the computer “card” and the adaptor into which it fit “had been destroyed intentionally.” Darrell Wade, “a data recovery specialist,” said after he inspected all the broken bits, “It appeared to me that someone physically pulled it apart.” Wade also noted burn marks on one edge of the card, he said it was odd there were no burn marks on the adaptor. This expert said he was not able to recover any data from the compromised card.
Defense attorney Michael Washington seems to suggest that the accuser, Mrs. Kim Oakley, has intentionally destroyed certain video evidence. At least one video recovered later from Mrs. Oakley’s computer shows her younger son putting his autistic brother into a choke hold, according to defense. The video clip ends after the younger brother pushes the autistic man out of range of the camera.
While she was in the witness box, Mrs. Oakley confirmed that her teenaged son named Mike was one of seven paid caregivers for his 23-year-old brother. When she was asked to explain the "choke-hold" video, she stated: “He’s definitely in the process of trying to control his brother.” Mrs. Oakley said that son Mike is now 19-years-old and has been a paid caregiver for his older brother since late 2011.
Mrs. Kim Oakely was the only witness for the first two days of trial, which started April 8, 2013. She testified that after she viewed video of caregiver Michael Garritson, “I became hysterical and in shock.” Mrs. Oakley said “it was so horrifying” that “I had a mental breakdown” and that’s when she snapped the video card into pieces and “I threw it in the garbage.” She denied intentionally destroying evidence: “I wasn’t hiding anything.” She did admit in the witness box that she first told a detective that the computer part broke “on its own.” Mrs. Oakley said she was “embarrassed” when she later had to admit her lie, “They saw that it was intentionally destroyed.” She told the jury she had her “meltdown” and destroyed the computer card containing hundreds of video clips before a detective phoned her requesting to collect unedited video.
Within a week of her return home from Europe, by August 29, 2012, the camera in her autistic son’s room was no longer “plugged in,” Mrs. Kim Oakley said in sworn testimony.
A jury of 11 women and one man watched certain video clips over and over again last week, these purport to show defendant Michael Dale Garritson abusing his patient James. Prosecutors claim the videos show eye-gouging and hair-pulling and arm twisting by the accused. At least two other caregivers, who are not charged in the case, reviewed video clips of Garritson and told the jury they did see inappropriate handling. These same witnesses also reviewed clips of their own "caregiving," and they reassured the jury that their own techniques were appropriate.
Defense wants to show that defendant Garritson, who has been a Registered Nurse for 30 years, was required to stop his patient from “self-injurious-behavior.” Witnesses agree that “severely autistic” James Gilbert will hurt himself if he is not prevented from doing so, and that he is unusually strong. Mrs. Oakley stated in the witness box that when her son James Gilbert becomes upset he will “punch himself in the head.” She confirmed she has posted educational videos on YouTube showing “Jamey having a self-abusive meltdown.” And she confirmed an incident in which emergency personnel were called to the Oakley home on Yellow Brick Road in Valley Center, and it took four or five paramedics to get control of James after he started injuring himself.
Mrs. Oakley said her disabled son was in a group home from 2003 until January 2009, but was brought home after a bad, self-injurious episode. She described her son James Gilbert as severely autistic; he has never spoken and wears diapers and is not able to feed himself. She said he “has to wear head protection” because he will bang his own head “very hard.”
Sixty-two-year-old Michael Dale Garritson has worked taking care of the autistic patient since 2009, according to testimony. Garritson was working twelve-hour overnight shifts, five or six days last summer, at the Oakley home during the time of the alleged incidents. He pleads not guilty to seven felony counts of abuse.
Defense is expected to begin presenting their case tomorrow morning, Monday April 15, 2013, after prosecution formally announces they “rest.” The case is heard in San Diego’s North County Superior Courthouse, before Honorable Judge Blaine K. Bowman.