Psychologist describes treatment of child locked in box as ‘harsh, cruel and demeaning’

Posted at 1:22 PM, October 6, 2023


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (Court TV) — A child psychologist who viewed dozens of videos captured by the Ring camera in RF’s custom-built ‘box,’ or room, testified that such confinement amounted to psychological torture and could be more harmful than helpful in addressing his behavioral issues.

Timothy and Tracy Ferriter are both charged with aggravated child abuse and false imprisonment for their treatment of RF. Their cases were severed at Timothy’s request, with his beginning first. Tracy has attended each day of her husband’s trial in support.

A man in a suit sits in court

Timothy Ferriter sits in court during the first day of his trial on Oct. 3, 2023. (Court TV)

“It was a long-standing 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,” said Dr. Wade Myers, a child psychiatrist, who went on to say that some of the punishments endured by RF were ‘sadistic,’ such as being denied food.

WATCH: Psychiatrist: Confinement Causes Developmental Damage

His scathing assessment of the Ferriters’ treatment of their adopted son RF, came on the heels of Ring videos recorded from Jan. 6 to 10, that showed RF alone in the room, sleeping, changing, working at his desk, and only being let out when one of his parents opened the door and turned the lights on. Tracy would frequently ask ‘Is it dirty?’ referring to the orange Home Depot bucket that served as RF’s toilet. She often brought him his clothes, which he would change into before being let out of the room. Over the five-day period, RF appeared compliant and stoic, promptly getting out of bed when his mom or dad opened the door to wake him and get him ready for school.

However, one particularly disturbing clip showed Tim shoving RF into the room, his hand pressed against the 14-year-old’s chest, angrily yelling, “Want to take this thing to the next level? Let’s do it!” Tim shut the door, turned off the lights and in the dark you can hear what sounded like RF crying and whimpering.

Dr. Myers testified that confining a child to a darkened room for 14 to 18 hours a day, with little stimuli would not have been recommended treatment for any of the issues RF’s mental health professionals had diagnosed in 2015 and 2019, including Reactive Attachment Disorder, the result of being abandoned at an orphanage in Vietnam when he was seven months old.

Myers said Ferriter would not have caused the problem but exacerbated whatever behavioral issues were symptomatic of the disorder. The psychiatrist said RF’s problems seemed to coincide with the time he started living in a box in Arizona. Myers suggested it could have caused him to hoard food, misbehave and become aggressive with other children. RF was even suicidal at one point, he said.

According to Myers, the recommended treatment for children with RAD, would be an environment that was loving, supportive and nurturing, which appeared absent from the videos shown to the jury.

READ MORE: FL v. Timothy Ferriter: Boy in the Box Trial

While Myers did not examine RF, he opined that the teen suffers from PTSD, noting that RF lowered his head, and stiffened when his father was around.

He suggested that even in the juvenile criminal detention system, detainees would not be locked up and isolated in a pitch-dark room. Detainees have access to a toilet and water and meals would not be withheld. Myers said the Ferriters’ treatment of RF was a form of psychological abuse that could be so damaging it had the potential of stunting his brain structure and growth.

construction inside of a home

An image shows construction underway on an 8×8 room in the Ferriters’ garage that prosecutors say was used to imprison a teenage boy. (Evidence Photo)

On cross-examination, defense attorney Khurrum Wahid was repeatedly stymied by prosecution objections. He suggested that the Ferriters had sought help from several mental health professionals over the years for behavioral issues even before RF was living in a box in Arizona.  In 2015, at the age of 8, a social worker diagnosed RF with Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD). In 2019 he was diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Wahid suggested RF was a problem child, noting there were 8 incidents in a 3-month span from late January to early March, in which school authorities reached out to the Ferriters to report an issue related to the injury of another child, property damage or theft.

The State’s expert noted that despite numerous reports from RF’s middle school, the school did not suspend or expel him.