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Arbitration clearing Cedar Rapids man of wrongdoing in Florida death case is final, judge rules
CEDAR RAPIDS - An arbitration decision clearing a Cedar Rapids man, who is a former Florida sheriff's deputy, of any wrongdoing in the 2004 death of a Florida man, will prevent a lawsuit from going to a jury.
A lawsuit filed against Steven H. Calkins, now 66, by the family of Terrance D. Williams, 27, of Naples, who went missing in 2004, cannot go forward to a jury because the family's attorneys didn't ask for a new trial within the required deadline, a judge in Collier County, Fla., has ruled.
According to the lawsuit, Calkins moved to Cedar Rapids years after the 2003 and 2004 cases in which Williams and another man went missing after being placed in the back of his patrol vehicle.
An investigation led to Calkins being fired from the Collier County Sheriff's Department, which is in the Naples, Fla., area. He was not charged in either disappearance.
Calkins is believed to be the last known person to have seen Williams, a Black man, and Felipe Santos, 23, an immigrant from Mexico, according to authorities and the lawsuit.
Both men were declared dead after five years. The cases remain open investigations.
Williams' mother, Marcia Williams, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in 2018 against Calkins, who is white, in the hope of providing evidence to further a criminal investigation against him, her attorneys said at that time, according to the Naples Daily News and other news reports.
The lawsuit asserts that Calkins' act or acts caused Williams' disappearance and death.
A judge sent the case to a non-binding arbitration, a neutral party, which is allowed in Florida law, and the arbitrator ruled that based on the evidence, which is mainly circumstantial, Calkins isn't responsible for the disappearance.
The judge ruled in December the arbitration was the final word in the case because there wasn't a request for a jury trial.
Williams' attorneys asked the judge to reconsider that decision during a hearing last month, arguing the missed filing was an oversight.
Judge Lauren Brodie of the 20th Judicial Circuit in Collier County rules this wasn't the first time there has been a 'calendaring issue” with the plaintiff's law firm.
She denied the reconsideration motion and ruled the arbitration decision is final.
According to Collier County sheriff's reports, both men went missing within three months of each other - Santos on Oct. 14, 2003, and Williams on Jan. 12, 2004 - and under similar circumstances.
Santos was involved in a minor crash while on his way to work, according to sheriff's reports. Calkins went to the crash scene and arrested Santos for driving without a license, but Santos was never booked into jail.
Calkins told investigators he dropped off Santos at a Circle K convenience store, according to the lawsuit.
In the other instance, witnesses told investigators they saw Calkins pull over Williams near a Naples cemetery, according to lawsuit and arbitration decision.
Calkins made several inconsistent statements to investigators, according to the lawsuit and arbitration.
Those inconsistencies, combined with his decision to not cooperate in an investigation or appear before a grand jury, eventually resulted in Calkins' termination, according to authorities and the lawsuit.
The lawsuit gained national attention when it was filed because it involved Ben Crump, a well-known civil rights attorney, and actor and film director Tyler Perry, who commented on the case on social media and in People magazine, according to the Naples Daily News and other outlets.
Perry also offered a reward, which has grown to $200,000, for information about the disappearances.
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