Actor and filmmaker Tyler Perry is using his celebrity status to help solve a decades-old cold case involving two African-American men believed to have disappeared after being picked up by a Florida sheriff’s deputy.
Perry told ABC News the two men “absolutely deserve” the spotlight he’s now shining on their cases.
The “Madea” star is offering a $200,000 reward for credible information into the whereabouts of Terrance Williams and Felipe Santos.
The men disappeared within months of each other almost 15 years ago, after allegedly being picked up by the same former Collier County, Florida deputy, Steven Calkins.
“These men have been gone for a very long time,” Perry said of Williams and Santos.
While the men are Black, Perry told “Good Morning America” that this isn’t “a Black and white issue” and “not about us against the police.”
In fact, he said many of the officers currently working at the Collier County Sheriff’s Office have been “fantastic” and “want justice” just as much as he does.
In a statement, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office said it’s “committed to investigating the disappearances” of these two men and shared the missing persons reports and past investigations their whereabouts.
“We also thank actor and filmmaker Tyler Perry for continuing to raise public awareness about these local cases and keeping them in the national spotlight,” the Collier County Sheriff’s Office added in its statement.
Perry announced he would be offering a $200,000 reward for information about the two men’s disappearances.
At a news conference, Williams’ mother, Marcia, and her lawyer, Benjamin Crump, announced they were suing Calkins for the wrongful death of Terrance Williams.
“We’re going to see that justice is done, that this deputy pays for what he deserves to get because he took my child. … I’m going to keep on fighting ’til the very end,” Marcia Williams said Tuesday during the press conference.
The lawsuit filed Tuesday accuses Calkins of being the last person to see Williams alive on or about Jan. 12, 2004.
According to the lawsuit, Calkins allegedly detained Williams, who was 27 at the time, near a cemetery in Naples, Florida, on suspicion of driving with a suspended license.
In the official police report from the incident, Calkins said he dropped Williams off at a nearby gas station that night. A few months earlier, on Oct. 14, 2003, Calkins said he had dropped off Felipe Santos at a gas station following a minor traffic accident.
Santos, like Williams, has also not been seen since then, according to the lawsuit.
Calkins was later fired by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office when he allegedly stopped cooperating with the investigation, but he has never been charged with a crime.
“This is a civil wrongful death lawsuit,” famed attorney Benjamin Crump told ABC News. “This is different from a criminal prosecution, which is beyond a reasonable doubt. Civil has a preponderance of evidence — a reasonable man’s standard, what is reasonable, what a reasonable man would believe.”