The Collier County Sheriff’s Office should be investigated and it should have happened over a decade ago.
On October 1, 2003, a 24-year-old Mexican immigrant named Felipe Santos disappeared after being held in police custody by Corporal Steve Calkins, who at the time had been an officer at the Collier County Sheriff’s Office for 17 years. That day, Santos had been driving to work in Naples, Florida, when he was involved in a car accident and was arrested by Calkins. That was the last time he would ever be seen.
Santos’ employer contacted the sheriff’s office to bail him out, only to be informed that Santos was never even booked. According to Calkins, he decided not to arrest Santos and instead dropped him off at a Circle K for being “polite and cooperative.” However, the other driver who was involved in the accident with Felipe reported that Cpl. Calkins was angry with Santos after finding out he was in the United States illegally. Santos’ family filed a complaint against Calkins, but he was cleared of wrongdoing, and despite filing a missing person’s report, Santos’ wife was never contacted by police for an interview.
Sadly, this would not be the last time that the Collier County Sheriff’s Office would be tied to a person’s disappearance, which occurred while in the custody of Cpl. Steve Calkins.
Just 4 months after Santos’ disappearance, 27-year-old Terrance Williams vanished while driving to a party at a coworker’s home. Two days later, Williams’ roommate contacted his mother to inform her that he had never returned to their apartment. After filing a missing person’s report, Williams’ family found that his car had been towed from a cemetery in Naples. However, further research revealed that the administrators of the cemetery were not the ones who had the car towed, instead, the tow report had been signed by none other than Steve Calkins. According to him, he had the car towed because it was obstructing traffic, but the cemetery employees offered a different account. According to them, they witnessed Calkins pull over and arrest Terrance. They stated that after driving away with Williams in the back of his police cruiser, that he returned alone an hour later and moved Williams’ car to the side of the road, deliberately dropping the keys on the ground. It was then, after making Williams’ car appear to be abandoned on the street, that Calkins called to have the car towed.
At the request of Williams’ family, officers asked Calkins about the incident, but he claimed that on that day, he did not arrest anyone, nor did he have any cars towed. His story of the incident was eerily similar to his explanation for his encounter with Santos. According to Calkins, he followed Williams’ car into the cemetery after spotting the car driving erratically. He claims that Williams was late for work and asked for a ride to a Circle K (one that was only 4 miles from the one where he claimed to have left Felipe Santos). Despite this claim, Williams did not work at a Circle K and would have no reason for asking to be given a ride there. Calkins also stated that after dropping off Williams at the Circle K, he returned to the cemetery to obtain Williams’ registration, which he claims was not present. He stated that he felt that Williams had tricked him, so he called the Circle K asking to speak to Williams, but was told he was gone. Unfortunately, the evidence shows that Calkins’ story was false.
After reviewing surveillance footage, employees at Circle K determined not only that Williams was never dropped off, but also that Cpl. Calkins’ police cruiser was never on the premises that day. Additionally, despite telling his peers at the Collier County Sheriff’s Office that he had not towed any cars or arrested anyone that day, dispatch recordings revealed that Calkins had asked for the car to be towed after claiming it was, “abandoned and blocking the road.” The recording also revealed Calkins to be using racially-charged rhetoric, referring to Williams’ car as a “homie Cadillac.” When confronted with witness statements that he was the one who moved the car into the street, Calkins claimed he did it to assist the towing company in securing the vehicle, but this too did not make sense, considering that the reason he asked for the car to be towed was because it was “blocking the road,” rather than being left in the cemetery. Despite claiming that he did not know Williams’ last name or identification data, records showed that Calkins had requested a background check on Williams after requesting that the car be towed and was presented with his information including his name and birth date.
Once the contradictions were noted, the FBI became involved with the case, and secretly added GPS technology to Calkins’ police cruiser. They also used cadaver dogs in the areas that were frequented by Calkins’ GPS, but found nothing. Corporal Steven Calkins was fired from the Collier County Sheriff’s Office for false statements, but was completely cleared of wrongdoing in the cases of both Felipe Santos and Terrance Williams.
Incidents like this are why so many people today fail to put their trust into the justice system. Here we have a sheriff’s deputy who not only lied about his interactions with people who disappeared after last being seen with him, but also, he blatantly lied to his own peers about his whereabouts and actions on the days that both men vanished. Not only did he lie about the events that occurred on those days, but multiple witnesses have provided clear accounts of him staging the abandonment of a missing person’s vehicle and tampering with evidence. Video footage shows that in Williams’ case, he was never dropped off that day, and despite this, Corporal Calkins was never pressed to provide information about what really happened after arresting Williams. Additionally, witnesses and recordings show that Cpl. Calkins had a clear racial bias towards Hispanic people and African American people while he exerted his authority as a sheriff’s deputy. But what is perhaps more horrific than the disappearances themselves, is the fact that even with mounting evidence that implicates Calkins in both disappearances, he was fired, but never prosecuted. He gets to continue enjoying his life, while the families of Felipe Santos and Terrance Williams wonder daily if their loved ones were murdered and disposed of by Steven Calkins.
If any regular citizen of Collier County lied to the police or tampered with evidence as much as Steven Calkins did, they would no doubt be prosecuted and held accountable for those actions. But, with a 17-year history with the sheriff’s office, Calkins no doubt dodged the justice system with the help of his peers who had established a relationship with him for nearly 2 decades. For that reason, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office should be investigated immediately, to determine why Steven Calkins was set free after his involvement in the disappearances of two innocent men. In giving Calkins special treatment, the sheriff’s office sets an example for Florida citizens that all one needs to do in order to dodge being charged in relation to a person’s disappearance is to become a police officer. How can the public in Collier County trust the sheriff’s office to handle their cases fairly when they completely discarded evidence that incriminated one of their own. How can they trust that the office will bring them justice if they are violated by one of the office’s employees? The answer is simple. They can’t.
Simply put, it is corruption at its finest.