NAPLES, FLA. (AP) - 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.
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.
When he announced the reward, a man stepped from the front of the crowd to tell Perry something, indicating he had information to offer.
“Wow. I have been praying for an answer for this family and I wasn’t expecting this moment,” Perry said after the encounter. “I am beyond overwhelmed by it. And just like this man has come forward, I am sure there are others. You do not have to be afraid. The sheriff here has assured me that he will be safe and anyone else that wants to say anything or speak out about this will be safe.”
“Why aren’t you civil rights leaders dealing with cases of missing people?” Sharpton said Perry asked him. “And he began telling me the story of Terrence Williams, saying if we fight for what’s right, how do we forget about people who just disappeared? And I felt guilty, because he’s right. All of us have not done all we should.”
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.
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.
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.