COLLIER COUNTY, Fla. — Filmmaker Tyler Perry on Tuesday joined prominent civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump in announcing a wrongful death lawsuit against a former Florida sheriff's deputy who was the last person to see two men who went missing in 2003 and 2004.
Crump filed suit Friday against former Collier County deputy Steven Calkins on behalf of the family of Terrance Williams, a 27-year-old black man who vanished in January 2004 after Calkins said he gave him a ride to a Circle K convenience store because Williams was having car trouble.
Calkins gave supervisors a similar story in October 2003, when he said he dropped Felipe Santos, 23, at a Circle K store following a fender bender the Hispanic man was involved in. Santos was never seen again.
- Plane carrying sick passengers quarantined at JFK
- Man installs electric fence to keep kids off his lawn
- Should all schools in Georgia start after Labor Day? It's a possibility
Collier County Sheriff’s Office officials have called Calkins a “person of interest” in the men’s disappearances. The former deputy, who the lawsuit indicates now lives in Iowa, has not responded to media requests for comment on the filing.
Terrance Williams, left, and Felipe Santos (Photo: Collier County Sheriff's Office)
"These two young men disappeared off the face of the Earth, and the last person to see them alive was this sheriff's deputy," Crump said Tuesday.
Crump said that the families haven’t had a peaceful night of sleep in 14 years.
“That’s why we’re here. We want to make sure that we can get them the answers that they so rightfully deserve, so hopefully, they can get some sense of peace knowing the truth,” said the attorney, who was flanked by Williams’ mother, Marcia Williams, on one side and Perry on the other.
"No matter who you are, be it poor or rich, this has got to bother you," Perry said at the news conference.
The entertainment mogul got involved in the case in 2013 after seeing a segment on Investigation Discovery about the case, he told Good Morning America Wednesday. At that time, he offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in the men's disappearances.
On Tuesday, he increased that reward to $200,000.
"If you are a decent, human, kind person with a soul, I don't know how you can sit and not be upset that these two people -- black, white, Mexican it doesn't even matter -- would be put in the back of a sheriff's deputy car, someone we are supposed to trust, put in the car and then they disappear and haven't been seen in 14 years," Perry said. "I don't know anyone who that would not move unless you just have a heart of stone."
Calkins has not been charged in the men's disappearances, but was fired in August 2004 after giving investigators conflicting statements and failing portions of a polygraph test during an internal investigation, The Naples Daily News reported. The former deputy became uncooperative early in the investigation and, other than telling the newspaper in 2006 that "very bad luck" and coincidence made him the last person to see both men alive, has remained largely silent about the case.
The lawsuit will change that, Crump said.
"He will be subpoenaed, and he will be made to come, to be deposed and give a sworn testimony for the first time to answer all the questions that Marcia Williams has for him," Crump said.
Santos’ family is not part of the lawsuit, but Crump said he would willingly represent them if they decided to become involved.
Watch the entire news conference held by attorney Benjamin Crump and entertainer Tyler Perry below.
The Collier County Sheriff's Office website says that Santos, a masonry and concrete laborer who lived in Immokalee, was last seen with Calkins on Oct. 14, 2003, at the Greentree Shopping Center in North Naples. The Daily News reported that Santos was involved in a minor traffic accident on his way to work that day.
Calkins was dispatched to the scene and was seen arresting Santos on suspicion of driving without a license, the newspaper reported. Santos was never booked into the jail, however.
The Daily News reported that Calkins told investigators that because Santos was "polite and cooperative," he dropped the man off at a Circle K on Immokalee Road instead of taking him to jail. A timeline compiled in 2013 by the newspaper shows that Santos' brother reported him missing two weeks later.
Terrance Williams encountered Calkins on Jan. 12, 2004, in the area of the Naples Memorial Gardens cemetery in North Naples, the Sheriff's Office website says. The Daily News reported that Calkins told investigators that he met Williams, who was having car trouble, and gave him a ride to Circle K on Wiggins Pass Road, where he saw him for the last time.
ABC News reported that neither Williams nor Calkins were seen on the store's surveillance camera, however.
Witnesses also told detectives and the missing man's family that they saw the deputy pull Williams' white 1983 Cadillac over at the cemetery, the newspaper said. They said they saw Calkins place Williams in the back of his patrol car and drive away.
Calkins never called in the traffic stop. Later that day, he sought information through a dispatcher about a "homie Cadillac" he said had been abandoned on the side of the road near the cemetery, the Daily News reported.
The deputy later had Williams’ car towed. Williams’ family tracked it four days later to a towing company, where workers pointed them to Calkins as the person who sent it to their lot.
ABC7 in Fort Myers reported that when Marcia Williams called the Sheriff's Office Jan. 16, Calkins denied seeing her son. Dispatch records obtained by the news station show a conversation with the deputy about Terrance Williams:
Dispatcher: "I hate to bother you on your day off, but this woman's been calling us all day. You towed a car from Vanderbilt and 100, 111th Monday, a Cadillac, do you remember it?"
Calkins: "Uhh, no."
Dispatcher: "Do you remember? She said it was near the cemetery."
Dispatcher: "And the people at the cemetery are telling her you put somebody in the back of your vehicle and arrested them, and I don't show you arresting anybody."
Calkins: "I never arrested nobody."
The lawsuit filed last week alleges that Calkins set up the abandonment of Williams’ car by driving it off private cemetery property and parking it where it would be obstructing a roadway. It also accuses him of never officially reporting either the traffic stop or the towing of the car.
Read the Williams family’s civil suit against Calkins below.
The suit states that Calkins also searched for warrants for Williams using information he would not have had if he'd only found the Cadillac abandoned. The Daily News reported that the car was not registered in Williams' name.
“After having Williams’ vehicle towed as abandoned, defendant performed a warrants search for Terrance D. Williams, which included providing Williams’ date of birth,” the lawsuit states. “Williams can be heard in the background of the aforementioned warrants search recording.”
Williams was never seen alive again, the lawsuit states.
“The facts circumstantially establish (Calkins) intentionally murdered or otherwise caused the death of Terrance D. Williams,” the lawsuit states.
Crump said Tuesday that Marcia Williams and her grandchildren, who he said "were babies" when their father went missing, deserve answers. He said he believes the evidence brought forth at a civil trial will result in a verdict that confirms what people have been informally saying for 14 years -- that Calkins killed the two men.
“My God, it’s long overdue that he answer these questions,” Crump said.
Marcia Williams said Tuesday that, although there is not a day when she does not want to break down over her son’s presumed death, she is “still here.”
"I'm not going anywhere," said Williams, who has been outspoken over the years as she's pleaded for information about the fate of her only child. "It's a very hard journey and I don't wish this on anybody."
She thanked Perry and Crump for coming together to help her see that journey through. Perry said Tuesday that people have to unite to fight for justice.
“We have got to come together as one to fight injustice and fight what is wrong,” Perry said. “This is wrong. This is wrong.”
The entertainer told Good Morning America Wednesday that the issue is not one of "black and white" or "us against the police."
“This is about finding justice for these two men,” Perry said.
Perry also pointed out that many of the Collier County investigators currently working the case, some of whom were in the audience at Tuesday’s news conference, want the case solved as much as the families do.
Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said in a statement that he supports all legal efforts to solve the case.
"We thank our community which has been working this case together with us for years and for providing numerous tips and leads to investigators," Rambosk said in a statement provided to media outlets, including the Daily News and Good Morning America. "We also thank actor and filmmaker Tyler Perry for continuing to raise public awareness about these local cases and keeping them in the national spotlight."
Marcia Williams on Tuesday asked that people pray for her grandchildren, who continue to struggle with their father’s absence.
"I'm not going to let it go until I get the answers that they deserve to have," Williams said. "We're going to see that justice is done and this deputy pays for what he deserves to get, because he took my child.
“I don't like that, and I am going to keep on fighting to the very end.”
Cox Media Group