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Lawyer for parents accused of abuse says Jupiter police ignored evidence of child's behavior


A Jupiter couple is accused of making an adopted live in an 8-by-8-foot box in their garage, with a door locked from the outside.

JULIUS WHIGHAM II   | Palm Beach Post

JUPITER – The attorney representing a Jupiter couple accused of making their adopted child live in an 8-by-8-foot structure in their garage filed a response with the court this week, saying the child has displayed a longstanding pattern of "dangerous and disturbing propensities" while under the couple's care. 

"There are a number of issues you do not know involving (the child)," defense attorney Nellie King wrote to Jupiter police on behalf of Timothy and Tracy Ferriter, who were arrested Tuesday on charges of aggravated child abuse and false imprisonment.

Those "propensities" included the child causing injury to other family members, as well as violent outbursts and thefts, said the letter, which King addressed to Jupiter Police Detective Andrew Sharp and Assistant State Attorney Alexandra Dorman, the lead investigator and prosecutor on the case.

King accused them of ignoring "critical evidence" about the child, some of it gathered from the family's four-year stint living in Arizona, in their decision to arrest the Ferriters. Her letter is dated Feb. 7, one day before the couple's arrests.

DCF opens investigation into Jupiter incident; accused couple out on bond

The Ferriters, both 46, are free on $50,000 bond. They are next scheduled to appear in court March 10 before Circuit Judge Howard Coates.

In addition to placing the child under protective custody, authorities removed three other children, all under the age of 17, from the family's home. The court ordered the Ferriters not to have contact with the children unless authorized by DCF.  A spokesperson for DCF said the agency has opened a child-protective investigation into the incident but did not provide any other details, citing state confidentiality laws.

The Jupiter investigation dates to Jan. 28, when the family informed police that their adopted child, now 14, had run away from home and was missing. Officers found the child outside Independence Middle School on Jan. 31, according to an arrest report.

A visit to the family's home in Egret Landing, a tree-lined, upscale neighborhood of one- and two-story homes along Central Boulevard, led to the discovery of the 8-by-8-foot structure in the garage, which the Ferriters had built when they returned in December to live in Florida. Officers had asked to see the adopted child's room.

The structure had a mattress, a bucket the child used as a toilet and a Ring camera to monitor whoever was inside. There was no inside handle on its door, and it locked from the outside, according to the arrest report.

According to the Ferriters' arrest report, the 14-year-old received an evaluation at a hospital after the disappearance. The child told investigators of choosing to run away "because I feel like no one loves me." 

Police wrote that the child spoke of strong punishments, physical abuse that dated to Arizona, being confined to the structure for up to 18 hours per day and usually being allowed out only to attend school. The child said they would rather be in prison than go home and told investigators of having suicidal thoughts, according to the arrest report. 

The Post is not revealing the gender of the child.

Parents challenge how police framed conditions at their home 

In her letter, released after the Ferriters' initial court appearance, King wrote that there were numerous school records, psychological and medical files that would frame the child's account "in an entirely different light." The child's actions had "got progressively more disturbing, more violent" as the child grew older, the letter said.

King did not immediately respond to questions from The Palm Beach Post on Friday regarding the child's medical history.

King wrote that the 14-year-old had pushed more than one family member, causing fractures and other injuries, and was involved in a physical attack on a classmate. The child also had brought knives and weapons to school and "fantasizes about killing people," the letter said.

Even as a new student at Independence Middle School, King wrote, the child had secretly recorded other students and had stolen phones, cash and credit cards.

The Jupiter police report describes interviews DCF investigators performed with two of the child's siblings. One reportedly became emotional during questioning and confirmed the child receives harsher punishments than the siblings and often is locked in the structure, which police said Ring videos they seized from the home confirmed. The other spoke of missing the adopted child, according to the police report.

Lawyer says family tried to balance care of child, safety of others

King's letter speaks of the family trying to find help for the child and protecting the other children at the same time but does not specify what efforts the family has made to find care.

Rachel Needle, executive director of the Whole Health Psychological Center in West Palm Beach, said a qualified mental-health professional should assess any extreme behaviors.

"There are certainly mental health professionals that can help assess and understand what's going on," said Needle, who did not speak specifically about the Jupiter case.

"There are options for treatment and for better understanding from a professional of how to manage a child's behaviors."


2022 Feb 12