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Child psychologist calls Tim Ferriter's alleged actions 'malicious' and 'cruel'

Jupiter father accused of locking adopted son in box-like structure in garage
Tim Ferriter in court with Tracy Ferriter seen over his shoulder during trial, Oct. 5, 2023
Posted at 9:13 AM, Oct 05, 2023

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A child psychologist testified Thursday that the Jupiter teenager who was essentially confined to life in a box-like structure in the garage of his home endured severe psychological trauma.

Dr. Wade Myers, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, called the alleged actions of Tim and Tracy Ferriter "malicious" and "cruel."

Tim Ferriter, 48, is on trial facing charges of child abuse, false imprisonment and child neglect. His wife is facing the same charges in a separate trial that has not yet begun.

After jurors spent the morning watching Ring camera videos that documented the Ferriters' interactions with their adopted son, Myers was called by prosecutors to bolster their argument that the Jupiter couple abused the teen by keeping him confined in an 8x8 enclosure that had been specially constructed for him in the garage of their Egret Landing home, without access to food, water or a bathroom.

Tim Ferriter seen on Ring camera video on courtroom monitor in his trial, Oct. 5, 2023
Tim Ferriter is shown on a Ring camera video on a courtroom monitor during his trial, Oct. 5, 2023, at the Palm Beach County Courthouse in downtown West Palm Beach, Fla.

Instead, the teen was forced to spend most of his time at home locked away from the rest of the family as punishment for his bad behavior.

"I felt it was severely harmful and very psychologically damaging to [him]," Myers testified.

"And why is that?" Assistant State Attorney Brianna Coakley asked him.

"It was a longstanding pattern of harsh, cruel and demeaning actions toward this child, as well as close to three years of essentially solitary confinement when he was not in school, as well as really sadistic punishments while he was locked away in the room," Myers said.

WATCH: Psychologist calls teen's treatment 'severely harmful'

Dr. Wade Myers calls treatment of Tim Ferriter's son 'severely harmful'

Myers pointed to the withholding of meals for misbehaving, taking his lone book away and turning off the lights, leaving the teen alone in the dark.

"It's malicious," Myers said. "It's cruel. I can't think of any other way to describe it more accurately."

In one of the videos from Jan. 8, 2022, Tracy Ferriter could be heard chiding her son for not thanking her for bringing him food to eat.

WATCH: Prosecutors play Ring camera videos chronicling actions of Ferriters

Prosecutors play Ring camera videos chronicling actions of Tim and Tracy Ferriter

"OK, 'Thank you, mama, for bringing me a snack,'" she said. "'Yeah, I'm hungry. Yeah, that'd be great.'"

In their own words

Jurors heard testimony from Ferriter's son and adopted daughter Wednesday.

Ferriter's son described in detail how he spent most of his time locked in the small room with nothing but a mattress on the floor, a desk and a bucket that he used to relieve himself.

WATCH: Teen says he 'slept in an 8x8 room in the garage'

Tim Ferriter's son: 'I slept in an 8x8 room in the garage'

"Did you like being in that room?" Coakley asked him.

"No," he said.

"Did you want to be in the room?" she asked him.

"No," he said.

Coakley then asked how he felt being in the room.

WATCH: Teen says being locked in room 'dehumanizing'

Tim Ferriter's son on being locked in room: 'It's dehumanizing'

"To me, being locked in the room, it's dehumanizing," he said. "It's almost as bad as genocide."

Despite the testimony, the teen said during cross-examination that he didn't think poorly of his adoptive parents.

"I don't have a bad image of Tim and Tracy," he said. "They just made a mistake. They were just acting out of frantic surprise of my actions. They weren't – I believe that they weren't trying to do any harm."

WATCH: Teen says he doesn't have 'bad image' of adoptive parents

Tim Ferriter's son: 'I don't have a bad image of Tim and Tracy'

But Myers indicated during his testimony that the teen's feelings are not uncommon in abusive situations.

"Can a child who is subject to that still have affection for the abuser?" Coakley asked him.

"Yes, that's very common," Myers said.

WATCH: Psychologist says 'very common' for abused child to show affection for abuser

Dr. Wade Myers says 'very common' for abused child to show affection for abuser

Myers admitted during his cross-examination that he never personally met with the teen but relied on medical and school records to arrive at his assessment.

Defense attorney Khurrum Wahid took aim at Myers' word choice, countering that "malicious" was not a psychiatric diagnosis.

"It's fair to say it is not a psychiatric diagnosis, and that is your area of expertise, right?" Wahid asked.

"Well, human behavior would be my area of expertise as well," Myers answered.

Wahid pushed back.

WATCH: Defense attorney challenges psychologist on use of word 'malicious'

Defense attorney challenges Dr. Wade Myers on use of word 'malicious'

"To opine that someone's malicious would not be a psychiatric opinion, correct?" he asked again. "It would not require your specialty, correct?"

"That's correct," Myers said.

"OK, so that opinion is you as a layperson," Wahid said. "That's your opinion, just as it would be, like, mine or anyone in the audience."

"No, I'm making a clinical assessment of a parent's behavior toward their child," Myers said. "It's a clinical observation based on video evidence, based on other evidence and based on working with abused children my entire career, as well as abusive parents."

Myers was then asked to define the word, which he called a synonym for "cruel" or "mean."

"OK, so you think they're cruel or mean?" Wahid asked.

"Their behaviors? Yes," Myers replied.

Wahid asked Myers if the teen's behavior at school contributed to the injury of other children.

"That's not entirely accurate," Myers said. "I don't know of any child that was significantly hurt."

"I didn't use the word 'significantly,'" Wahid retorted.

But Myers said some of the incidents were instigated, including one example in which the teen pressed his thumb into another boy's throat.

"Is he recreating the trauma of what he's been through, where he's been grabbed by the neck and pinned up against the wall and choked?" Myers suggested. "Is he just reenacting the trauma he's been through?"

Wahid then asked Myers if he believed the parents were reacting to the teen's "uncontrollable" behavior.

WATCH: Psychologist poses 'chicken or the egg' theory

Dr. Wade Myers poses 'chicken or the egg' theory

"We're getting into which comes first – the chicken or the egg," Myers said. "Did their escalating abuse of [the teen] cause his behavior to get worse and worse and it just became a vicious cycle and the worse he was mistreated, the worse he behaved? I mean, that's kind of what it looks like to me."

Myers went on to say that pediatric records didn't indicate any behavioral problems until he was about 8.

"They never took him to any sort of counseling," Myers stated. "There's no school records with complaints of [the boy's] behavior before age 8."

Wahid spent most of the rest of the afternoon questioning Myers about the teen's reactive attachment disorder, a condition in which a child doesn't form a healthy emotional bond with his or her caretaker.

Problem child?

Defense attorneys tried to portray Ferriter's son as a problem child whose repeated behavioral issues impacted not just the home life but also the classroom.

During cross-examination, the teen admitted to stealing, bringing a box cutter to school, injuring his baby brother while they were living in Arizona and, when the boy was 4, offering him a beer to conduct an experiment.

His older sister also testified during Wednesday's cross-examination that her brother was frequently in trouble, "hyper" and difficult to control.

WATCH: Tim Ferriter's daughter recalls brother's difficulties in Arizona

Tim Ferriter listens in court as daughter recalls brother's difficulties in Arizona

The Ferriters were arrested by Jupiter police in February 2022, shortly after the family moved back to South Florida. They had previously lived in Jupiter before moving to Arizona for a few years.

Tracy Ferriter has been present in the courtroom throughout the trial, sitting behind her husband in the gallery and listening to testimony from her children and the rest of the state's witnesses.

The Department of Children and Families removed the Ferriters' children from the home after their arrest.

Before Thursday's testimony began, Judge Howard Coates cautioned jurors that the trial would likely extend into next week.