Public Safety

Florida wrongful death lawsuit envelops Cedar Rapids man, a former deputy

Arbitration clearing him of wrongdoing being disputed

In a Jan. 10, 2013, file photo, Collier County (Fla.) Sheriff Kevin Rambosk, at lectern, speaks at a news conference to
In a Jan. 10, 2013, file photo, Collier County (Fla.) Sheriff Kevin Rambosk, at lectern, speaks at a news conference to discuss the special missing-person investigations of Terrance Williams and Felipe Santos. Listening, from left, are NAACP President Ben Jealous, filmmaker Tyler Perry, and Marcia Williams, the mother of Terrance Williams. Perry offered a $100,000 reward — which has since doubled — for information in the decade-old case of the two men, who went missing after separate encounters with Collier County Sheriff’s Deputy Steven Calkins. (AP Photo/Naples Daily News, William DeShazer)
/

CEDAR RAPIDS — A Cedar Rapids man who is a former Florida sheriff’s deputy being sued by the family of a man who went missing in 2004 after a traffic stop may face a civil jury trial if a judge doesn’t accept a recent arbitration decision.

According to the lawsuit, Steven H. Calkins, now 66, came to Cedar Rapids years after the 2003 and 2004 cases in which two men 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 in the Naples, Fla. area. He has never been charged in either case.

Calkins is believed to be the last known person to have seen Felipe Santos, 23, an immigrant from Mexico, and Terrance D. Williams, 27, a Black man, both of Naples, according to authorities and the lawsuit.

Both men were declared dead after five years of being missing. 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 more evidence to further a criminal investigation against him, her attorneys said at that time, according to Naples Daily News and other news reports.

The lawsuit asserts that Calkins’ act or acts caused Williams’ disappearance and death.

The mother’s Tallahassee attorney, well-known civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, didn’t respond last week to emails seeking comment.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Calkins couldn’t be reached for comment through a telephone number available in public records.

Calkins’ Naples attorney, John Hooley, declined to comment but did point out the arbitration decision in November found there is a lack of evidence in the case.

A judge entered the arbitration as final word in the case — meaning Calkins is not responsible for the disappearance — but that action is now being contested.

The lawsuit gained national attention when it was filed because it involved Crump 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.

The missing men

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. Williams was allegedly driving on an expired license.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Calkins told investigators he also took Williams to a Circle K and dropped him off, instead of arresting him, the lawsuit states.

The suit also cites other actions that day: Calkins didn’t call or radio dispatchers that he initiated the traffic stop of Williams, according to sheriff’s reports. Witnesses told investigators they saw Calkins pat down Williams and place him in the back of his patrol car without handcuffs. Williams was never arrested or charged.

Later, witnesses also said that Calkins returned to the cemetery, without Williams, and moved Williams’ Cadillac outside the cemetery, parking it on the shoulder of the road, the lawsuit and arbitration states. Calkins then called dispatch and said he found an “abandoned” car, the records show.

During this call, Calkins made “racially insensitive” comments about the type of person who owned a “homie” Cadillac, according to the lawsuit. Calkins didn’t initially report he had contact with the car’s owner, records show.

During the investigation, authorities found Calkins didn’t send records of Williams’ tow to his in-car computer but instead had hard copies of the tow records mailed to him personally, the lawsuit states.

After Calkins had the vehicle towed, he performed a warrants check on Williams, according to the lawsuit. During those calls, Williams is heard in the background, so at that time Calkins still had Williams in custody but Williams was never booked and never seen again at his home, work or by family members, the lawsuit asserts.

Calkins made several inconsistent statements to investigators, according to the lawsuit and arbitration. For example, he said he didn’t know Williams’ last name but conducted a warrants check with Williams’ full name and date of birth.

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.

Move to Cedar Rapids

The suit states Calkins moved to Iowa sometime after being fired, but it was unclear when he relocated to Cedar Rapids.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

According to records, Calkins lived in a house in southeast Cedar Rapids in 2014 and purchased a northeast side home in 2016. His family also lived in Cedar Rapids, records show.

Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner said records show county deputies served a summons regarding the lawsuit to Calkins’ wife Sept. 12, 2018, after trying to locate Calkins for six days.

Gardner said he learned of the case in 2018 because he happened to be in Florida on vacation at the time and heard news reports.

Recent developments

A Collier County judge sent the lawsuit to non-binding arbitration, or a neutral party, to review the facts of the case, as allowed in Florida law.

An arbitrator found the case didn’t show Calkins in a “good light,” based on his inconsistent statements to law enforcement and that he didn’t cooperate in the investigation, but the evidence was mostly circumstantial.

The arbitrator, Robert E. Doyle Jr., ruled the plaintiffs’ arguments lacked evidence to show Calkins’ acts led to Williams’ disappearance.

Typically, because arbitration isn’t the final word, a plaintiff still can request a jury trial, but Marcia Williams’ attorney didn’t file a motion.

The judge unsealed the arbitration decision and entered it as a judgment — meaning Marcia Williams won’t receive any damages on her claims and Calkins is not responsible.

But late in December, Crump did file a motion for the judge to reconsider the arbitration as the final judgment and asked for a new trial.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

His motion states his office changed filing practices during the coronavirus pandemic and the motion inadvertently wasn’t filed by the deadline. The plaintiff intended to ask for a new trial and continued to work on the lawsuit, even traveling to Cedar Rapids and taking Calkins’ deposition on Dec. 8, after the arbitration decision was made.

Hooley, in his motion against new trial, said the plaintiffs had adequate time to file a motion for new trial from the time it was rendered Nov. 24, 2020, to the judge’s order, 27 days later on Dec. 21. Nothing was filed until Dec. 23.

Hooley also pointed out a court order from Jan. 12, 2020, states an arbitration decision would be final if a request for a new trial wasn’t filed in time. Hooley, in his motion, asks the court not to grant Williams’ motion and leave arbitration as final judgment.

A judge has set a hearing on the motions for Feb. 18 in Collier County.

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.