Filmmaker Tyler Perry is offering a $100,000 reward for information in the decade-old case of two men who went missing after separate encounters with a sheriff’s deputy in southwestern Florida.
Perry joined the Rev. Al Sharpton and Ben Jealous of the NAACP at a news conference Thursday in Naples to discuss the missing-person investigations of Terrance Williams and Felipe Santos.
Santos and Williams disappeared three months apart in the Naples area in 2003 after crossing paths with Collier County Sheriff’s Deputy Steven Calkins. He was never charged but was fired the next year.
Perry said the media was not paying enough attention to missing-person cases involving minorities. Williams was black and Santos was an illegal immigrant from Mexico.
He called the cases an “outrage” followed by cheers of “Amen” and “yes” by the crowd. When he announced the reward, a man stepped from the front of the crowd to tell Perry something, indicating he had information to offer.
“Just like this man has come forward, I am sure there are others,” Perry said. “You are being watched around the world and you are safe.”
Sharpton said Perry called him and asked “why aren’t you civil rights leaders dealing with missing persons cases?”
“This kind of issue requires all of us … To come together,” Sharpton said. “It’s not about pointing fingers this is about joining hands.”
Investigations by local, state and federal authorities went nowhere. Calkins, who is white, denied doing anything more than dropping off the young men at different convenience stores. He was never charged but was fired after he stopped cooperating with investigators.
Santos, who did farm work and construction, was 23 when he vanished in October 2003. He had been driving with his brothers to work when he got into a fender bender. He didn’t have registration or insurance, and Calkins arrested him, put him in the back of his patrol car and drove away.
When his brothers went to the jail to bail him out, he wasn’t there. Later, Calkins told investigators that because Santos was so cooperative, he decided not to arrest him and dropped him off.
Williams was 27 and had moved to Naples from Tennessee to be closer to his mother after trouble with the police. His white Cadillac broke down in January 2004. Calkins spotted it and called in to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office to run the vehicle number and have the car towed. In the recorded conversation, Calkins and the dispatcher both talked in exaggerated black dialect.
Later, Calkins told investigators that Williams asked him for a ride to a store and he let him off there. Police reports said Williams was last spotted by witnesses near a cemetery.
Don Hunter, the Collier County sheriff at the time, said Calkins’ patrol car was tested for blood and signs of a struggle, but nothing was found. A tracking device was put on Calkins’ car in case he had dumped their bodies and went back to the scene, Hunter said, but again nothing turned up.
The former sheriff noted that both men would have had some reason to disappear — Santos was in the country illegally, and Williams was due back in court in Tennessee, where he was facing jail time for failure to pay child support.