As trial nears, lawyer says parents who locked adopted teen in Jupiter garage 'did their best'
Attorneys say the teen's behavior is so disruptive, even trained professionals have resorted to keeping the child under tight lockdown.
HANNAH PHILLIPS Palm Beach Post
WEST PALM BEACH — Defense attorneys for the South Florida couple accused of locking their adopted teenager in an 8-by-8-foot box say the teen has gone “months and months on end” without seeing the outside world since being removed from the home.
The attorneys asked a judge this month for permission to collect psychiatric records from the facility where officials relocated the teen after arresting the parents on charges of aggravated child abuse and false imprisonment in 2022. They say the records may reveal a pattern of behavior so disruptive that even trained professionals have resorted to keeping the child under tight lockdown.
“The fact that our clients are to blame for not handling something in a way that no psychiatrist has been able to properly handle for the course of the year … absolutely corroborates the fact that they did their best with a child with behavioral issues that they could not manage,” said defense attorney Prya Murad.
Circuit Judge Howard Coates denied their request, siding with prosecutors who argued that the teen’s behavior in the year following the alleged abuse has no bearing on Timothy and Tracy Ferriter's decision to lock the teen up “for the vast majority of the day or night” in 2021 and 2022.
Assistant State Attorney Brianna Coakley warned that intruding on the teen’s psychiatric treatment could have a chilling effect on the child and others who have experienced suspected abuse at their parents’ hands. Coates agreed, dismissing the defense attorneys' proposal as a violation of the psychotherapist-patient privilege.
Police arrested Timothy and Tracy Ferriter on Feb. 8, 2022, after finding evidence that they locked their adopted 14-year-old in an 8-by-8-foot box in the garage for up to 18 hours at a time.
Police said the wooden room contained a twin bed, a bucket, a stack of kids' books and a Ring camera affixed above the bed. A search warrant produced thousands of videos of the child locked in the room, many capturing the sound of the door closing and the deadbolt locking.
The child described a pattern of physical and mental abuse at the parents' hands. The teen said a typical day was spent confined to the room before and after school, waiting for someone to bring leftovers to the locked room once the Ferriters and their other children finished eating.
Coakley said at the July 21 hearing prosecutors don't need to prove that the Ferriters inflicted actual mental abuse on their child to earn a conviction; only that their actions could have reasonably resulted in it.
Parents' attorneys have targeted teen's behavior
The Ferriters' attorneys have characterized the teen as routinely dishonest, scrutinizing the child as intently as law enforcement scrutinized the parents. They are expected to argue that the teen's current behavioral issues are not a result of trauma at the hands of the parents, but are "long standing and have existed almost since he was adopted."
Defense attorney Nellie King, who represented Timothy Ferriter before a dispute over legal fees prompted her abrupt departure from the case, said the child displayed a longstanding pattern of "dangerous and disturbing propensities," including theft and violent outbursts, while under the couple's care.
Many in the wake of their arrest have pointed to a dearth of mental health resources and parenting support across Florida that leaves adoptive families with little recourse when faced with serious behavioral issues.
Timothy and Tracy Ferriter, who adopted the teen 12 years before their arrest, are scheduled to go to trial Sept. 29.
Hannah Phillips is a journalist covering public safety and criminal justice at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach her at email@example.com.