Jupiter couple faces aggravated child abuse charges; police say they made child live in box in garage
Police say the child lived in an 8-foot structure in the garage, let out only for school. The couple's lawyer says police ignored 'critical evidence.'
JUPITER — In the garage of their Egret Landing home, a husband and wife regularly kept their adopted 14-year-old child confined to an 8-foot-by-8-foot structure, according to a Jupiter police report made public Wednesday.
Timothy and Tracy Ferriter provided the child with a bucket to use as a toilet, fed the child leftovers from meals they first provided to the rest of the family and monitored the child’s activities through a surveillance camera, Jupiter police said in arresting the couple.
Both appeared before Circuit Judge Charles Burton on Wednesday to face charges of aggravated child abuse and false imprisonment. Burton ordered that both be held in lieu of $50,000 bail at the Palm Beach County Jail.
Nellie King, the couple’s attorney, said Wednesday that police investigators ignored "critical evidence" that was presented from Arizona, where she said the family lived up until a month ago. She did not say what that evidence disclosed.
“In the criminal legal system, the temptation for a community to rush to judge is tempered by the judicial process, a presumption of innocence, and the facts,” she said in a prepared statement to The Palm Beach Post. “What Tim and Tracy have lived through the past many years will therefore be presented in court.”
Investigators said three other children living in the family’s Egret Landing home were removed from the couple’s care by Child Protective Services. The Florida Department of Children and Families did not immediately answers questions regarding the investigation.
A spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Child Safety said he could not comment on any investigations there, citing confidentiality laws.
The arrests came as a surprise to residents of Egret Landing, where the Ferriters lived from 2006 to 2017 and returned to about a month ago after spending about four years in Arizona.
Neighbors said they didn't know much about the couple, who lived in a single-story house on one of the community's many cul-de-sacs, lined with large houses, children's basketball hoops and tree swings.
Outside the family's first home, former neighbors said they saw the children playing outside but rarely interacted with the parents. A neighbor three houses down said the children sometimes played in his lawn but would run home when he said hello. At the time the family had two daughters and a son, who neighbors said was of Asian-descent.
Jupiter couple described as 'nice, friendly'
Neighbors near the Ferriters' new house said they barely saw the couple and occasionally saw children playing outside. A handyman who did some work at the new home described the couple as "nice, friendly and welcoming."
“It was shocking to see the news. That is the last thing you expect when going to a house” in Egret Landing, he said.
The couple's arrest report described a pattern of abuse against the child dating at least to the family’s time living in Arizona.
According to the police report, the child told investigators that he was routinely kept inside an 8-foot-by-8 foot-room that was locked from the outside. The child described a typical day as being confined to the room before and after school, and not being allowed to go anywhere else inside the house.
The child said the longest they could remember being locked inside the room was 16 to 18 hours.
The report indicated that Tracy Ferriter reported the child missing the night of Jan. 28. She told police the child suffered from "several behavior disorders" and had run away from home on several occasions.
Officers continued to search through that weekend, returning to the Ferriters' home two days later to check for clues in the child’s bedroom. Tracy Ferriter intially denied the officers entry, saying that she didn’t feel comfortable allowing them inside without her husband home.
After a long conversation, she agreed to let one officer inside, police said. When the officer requested to see the child’s belongings, Tracy Ferriter guided the officer to a younger child's room and then to the garage structure. The officer observed that it contained a box spring and mattress and schoolbooks, and had a Ring camera installed above the bed.
When asked why the structure had an exterior lock, Tracy Ferriter said it was used as storage for the family, according to the report. She then said it was space used by all of the family’s children, the report said.
Child spotted near Independence Middle School
On Jan. 31, a Palm Beach County School District police officer contacted Jupiter police to report that the child had been spotted near the grounds of Independence Middle School by a security camera. Members of Jupiter police’s drone team were able to find the child running near the front of the campus and an officer found the teen, according to the report.
At the police department, the child described a pattern of abusive behavior by the child’s adoptive parents, alleging that Timothy Ferriter on one occasion slammed the child against the wall and slapped the child.
When asked how often their adoptive father would get angry, the child responded by telling investigators that it “happened a lot in Arizona.”
A search warrant for recordings made by the Ring camera produced thousands of videos of the child locked in the room, according to the arrest report. Many captured the sound of the door closing and the deadbolt locking. Some recorded the parents "yelling" at the child.
Police records show that investigators spoke to the owner if the Egret Landing home the family owned when it first lived in the community. The current owner told investigators there was a room in the garage that he had removed because it could only be locked from the outside and he believed it was made to keep someone inside it.
The owner said the room was described by a Realtor as a “bonus room.” However, when shown the room, it had a small child-sized bed inside with a comforter, he told investigators. Records show that the Ferriters purchased the home in 2014, but it was not known when the structure in the garage was added, police said.
A man hired to do work at the couple's new home went to police in December to report that he had received a job order that he was thought was unusual, according to their arrest report.
The worker told police he was asked to build an office in the garage and was given instructions to build an 8-foot-by-8-foot space with its own ceiling and door.
He noted that the door had a deadbolt lock and a knob that could only be used from the outside. He explained that someone working in the structure would not be able to exit it unless someone opened the door from the outside, the arrest report said.
The worker told police that he was instructed to build the space with electricity and to install a window air-conditioning unit, as well as a camera in the ceiling.
Staff writer Gerard Albert III contributed to this story.