Tyler Perry Reflects on Tragic Disappearance That Inspired 'Never Seen Again' Premiere (Exclusive)

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Tyler Perry is hoping his new Paramount+ series, Never Seen Again, will help bring justice and solace to families who've lost their loved ones. 

The 52-year-old media mogul broke down his journey to appearing on the premiere episodes of the true-crime series for ET's Rachel Smith, explaining that it all began with the tragic disappearance of 27-year-old Terrance Williams. "I was flipping through channels about maybe five or six years ago, and I saw the stories, so I reached out to his mother," he explained.

"She was so frustrated because she couldn't get any help. I was like, 'I know a few people, maybe I can help you,' and it's been a struggle for me to get attention for him and Felipe as well," the filmmaker confessed. "You'd be surprised. One journalist said that I don't have sympathetic victims, which really took me aback... I mean, these two men [were] put in the back of a deputy's patrol car and they disappear, and nobody would help. So, I feel her frustration and I don't know how anybody wouldn't want to help her."

The show's first two episodes focus on the case of Terrance, who disappeared in Naples, Florida, in 2004 after he was seen getting into a Collier County sheriff's patrol car. Initially, the officer claimed he never met Terrance, but after being questioned by police investigators, he said he gave Terrance a ride to a gas station. But those claims came under suspicion when another man, Felipe Santos, disappeared after getting into the same officer’s car. 

Perry said that seeing the desperation in Terrance's mother, Marcia, struck a chord as he thought about how if something happened to him, "my mother would not stop until her dying breath to find [out what happened.]" As a parent to a 7-year-old son, Aman, Perry said he couldn't even let the idea of something happening "into my spirit."

Perry admitted that he was also frustrated with the familiarity of the situation, referencing the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till. 

"To understand that from the time Emmett Till was snatched out of the bed and murdered by white men in Mississippi and nothing was done, and to realize that in 2004, a deputy can put a Mexican immigrant and a Black man in the back of his car and they can disappear under the exact same circumstances -- where he said he dropped both of them off at the exact same place -- and there's no evidence that he did that, and he just walks free? I just don't understand it," Perry mused.

Per CBS News, Terrance had last been seen by his roommate, Jason Gonzalez, driving his white 1983 Cadillac to a party with coworkers on the evening of Jan. 11. Hoping that Terrance's Cadillac could provide a lead to his disappearance, Marcia's family tried the town's tow companies.

The calls revealed a tow company picked up Terrance's white Cadillac at the Naples Memorial Gardens Cemetery on Jan. 12. "I went to the cemetery and I spoke with the workers there," recalled Marcia, "and they told me that a cop put him in the back of his cruiser and drove away with him."

Collier County Sheriff's Deputy Steven Calkins was the cop identified by the cemetery workers. The former deputy initially denied having had any interaction with Terrance and even failed to recall towing a Cadillac from the cemetery on Jan. 12. But as Marcia continued to press the sheriff's office for answers, the deputy's superiors asked him to write an incident report. In that report, Steven completely changed his story, from not remembering anything to outlining a very detailed account of his interaction with Terrance.

Two months after Terrance went missing, Marcia received a call from the local Mexican consulate informing her that three months before Terrance vanished, 23-year-old undocumented Mexican worker Felipe Santos had disappeared. And the last person Felipe was seen with was Deputy Steven Calkins.

Calkins was fired in August 2004 after an internal investigation determined that he lied about his interaction with Terrance. But he has never been criminally charged in connection with the case.

In 2018, Perry enlisted Ben Crump -- a civil rights attorney famous for representing families of Black victims of police violence -- to launch a wrongful death lawsuit against Calkins on behalf of Marcia. In December 2020, Calkins was compelled as part of the civil suit to sit for a four-and-a-half-hour deposition, excerpts of which are included in Never Seen Again

During his sworn testimony, Calkins recalled that he didn't take Terrance to jail because he "seemed like a really nice guy." For the most part, however, the former police officer said he was unable to remember his encounters with Terrance and Felipe. 

A court-appointed arbitrator ultimately ruled against the lawsuit, citing a lack of evidence. When Crump's attorneys missed a filing deadline to take the suit to trial, the judge sided with the arbitrator, dismissing the case.

According to CBS News, Crump's team is hoping to use Calkins' deposition to get the federal Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division to reopen the investigation.

"My hope is that the Department of Justice will get involved and and their civil rights division will get involved and bring him to charges so that Marcia can finally have some answers," Perry told ET. "I just want her to have some answers, because at this point, none of us believe that he's alive. Because there's no way that they [would] not have contacted their family [after] all these years. So, even though some in the sheriff's department suggested that they were hiding from the law, my hope would be that that something happens just to give her some sense of justice."

Crediting his late mother for his humanitarian spirit, Perry noted that every instance of kindness is "paying homage to her and letting her know that she did well by me."

"I'm also showing my son that this is how you should live your life when you have what you have," he added. "When you have, you should give and when you learn, you should teach.That's how I'm trying to live my life."

The first season of Never Seen Again is now available to stream on Paramount+.


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