MARIANNA, Fla. – Fired Jackson County Deputy Zach Wester was arrested on racketeering and quite a few different prices for allegedly planting meth and different road medication on unsuspecting motorists earlier than hauling them off to jail.
Brokers with the Florida Division of Legislation Enforcement, who’ve been investigating Wester for greater than 9 months, arrested him Wednesday. Wester, anticipated to make his first courtroom look on Thursday, invoked his proper to stay silent and declined to talk with investigators.
He was arrested on 52 counts in all. Other than the racketeering depend, he was charged with a lot of different felonies, together with official misconduct, false imprisonment, fabricating proof and possession of a managed substance. He was additionally charged with misdemeanor prices of perjury, possession of a managed substance and possession of drug paraphernalia, FDLE mentioned.
Jackson County Sheriff Lou Roberts, State Legal professional William “Invoice” Eddins of the first Judicial Circuit and Chris Williams, particular agent in control of the FDLE’s Pensacola, Florida workplace, mentioned the case in a day information convention. Certainly one of Wester’s alleged victims, Teresa Odom, wept as they mentioned particulars of the case.
“I’m overwhelmed,” she mentioned afterward, including she was happy with one of many FDLE brokers who labored together with her through the investigation.
‘One thing we’re not happy with’
Roberts mentioned Wester’s alleged crimes have been “disheartening.” He thanked the neighborhood for its endurance through the investigation, which bought sidetracked after Hurricane Michael hit Oct. 10.
“That is one thing we’re not happy with,” mentioned Roberts, who plans to retire and never search re-election subsequent 12 months. “No company desires to undergo this sort of state of affairs and face the embarrassment of the general public. This can be a very critical matter. We’re imagined to set increased requirements, and the allegations that have been made on this case might be tried.”
Eddins and Williams supplied new particulars within the case, together with a considerable amount of medication present in Wester’s car throughout an inside affairs probe that started final August. However investigators declined to offer a potential motive for Wester’s alleged actions.
“You’re by no means sure of the methods of the guts of man,” Eddins mentioned. “We have now some concepts and a few theories, and we’ve talked about that so much. However I don’t really feel that it could be applicable to enter it in any element right now.”
Williams emphasised that the case was nonetheless open, and he requested the general public to name FDLE’s Pensacola workplace if they’ve any details about Wester.
“A big investigation has been and is being carried out,” Williams mentioned. “FDLE has assigned a crew of 10 particular brokers and two crime analysts who’ve logged over 1,400 hours on this case already. And it’s nonetheless ongoing at this time.”
Eddins, who was assigned the case after Glenn Hess, state lawyer for the 14th Judicial Circuit recused himself, mentioned he was ready to go to trial now if Wester calls for a speedy trial. And he mentioned he won’t permit a plea cut price within the case partly as a result of it includes a public worker. He added that thus far, no proof has been discovered that some other deputies or different Sheriff’s Workplace personnel labored in live performance with Wester.
“It’s been my expertise in monitoring this investigation that the regulation enforcement neighborhood in Jackson County is sincere, skilled and they don’t condone or help criminality,” Eddins mentioned. “I can’t overstate how full and the way properly (the Sheriff’s Workplace) cooperated with us.”
In Florida: Deputy below investigation after video of him punching black teen within the head goes viral
Deputies: Florida deputy dragged on interstate throughout visitors cease
‘His actions put harmless folks in jail’
FDLE started its investigation final August on the request of the Sheriff’s Workplace after whispers of misconduct by Wester started to floor across the courthouse. He was suspended Aug. 1 and fired a month later. Throughout the inside investigation, deputies looking his patrol automobile discovered 42 items of drug paraphernalia, ten baggies of methamphetamine and 5 baggies of marijuana hid in an unmarked and unsecured proof bag within the trunk.
“The objects situated inside Deputy Wester’s patrol automobile weren’t maintained as required of respectable proof, objects for secure retaining or objects for destruction,” the arrest affidavit says. “The a number of objects situated have been in keeping with, and comparable in look to, objects believed to have been used to manufacture proof throughout (his) visitors stops and arrests.”
The investigation discovered Wester routinely pulled over residents for alleged minor visitors infractions, planted medication inside their automobiles and arrested them on fabricated prices. It additionally discovered that Wester misused his physique digital camera, typically turning it off earlier than medication have been situated or turning it on simply after they have been discovered.
“There is no such thing as a query that Wester’s crimes have been deliberate and that his actions put harmless folks in jail,” Williams mentioned in a information launch. “I’m happy with the arduous work and dedication proven by our brokers and analysts on this case to make sure justice is served.”
Christina Pumphrey, a former assistant state lawyer in Marianna who helped carry Wester’s alleged misdeeds to gentle, mentioned she was “extremely shocked” to be taught of his arrest as a result of she did not suppose he’d ever get charged.
“I am glad he is off the highway,” she mentioned. “I am glad he is clearly dealing with prices. It does not change what the remainder of the folks went by due to him. It does not give them their time again. It does not give them their a reimbursement. It does not expunge their data — they nonetheless have not less than arrest histories. But it surely’s nonetheless one thing.”
‘Our investigation is ongoing’
The allegations prompted prosecutors in to evaluation almost 300 circumstances involving Wester. They finally dropped prices in almost 120 circumstances. However Eddins mentioned there’s no indication Wester planted medication or fabricated arrests in all of these circumstances. He famous that the fees towards Wester are primarily based on his arrests of 11 completely different folks.
“Our investigation is ongoing,” Eddins mentioned. “There’s a considerable quantity of labor to be performed. However I’ve no perception that there’s anyplace close to 100 victims. We could have recognized a lot of the victims, we could (have) not.”
Odom, pulled over final 12 months by Wester in Cottondale, was among the many victims listed in arrest paperwork. Wester’s personal physique digital camera footage appeared to indicate him with a baggie in his hand earlier than he placed on his gloves to start looking her pickup truck. Hess informed the Democrat final 12 months that the footage brought on him to lose confidence within the deputy. Odom’s prices have been finally tossed.
One other of his alleged victims, Benjamin Bowling, was arrested in 2017 on prices of possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia, in response to the arrest affidavit.
Wester claimed he smelled marijuana within the car, although Bowling, a passenger, and the driving force denied doing medication. After Wester introduced he’d discovered medication within the automobile, Bowling swore he’d been clear since an earlier DUI arrest. On the time, he was being examined often after gaining custody of his daughter.
“Moreover, Bowling voluntarily took a drug check after he was arrested and it was unfavorable,” the arrest report says. “Bowling contacted the Sheriff’s Workplace and requested that the medication have been examined for DNA and fingerprints. Bowling additionally requested the physique digital camera video however by no means acquired it. Bowling misplaced custody of his daughter due to the arrest.”
The racketeering cost towards Wester carries a most penalty of 30 years in state jail. The opposite felonies carry most sentences of 5 years. Eddins mentioned that below Florida’s sentencing pointers, Wester might face 13 and a half years in jail if convicted on all prices, although a decide might choose to offer him extra time behind bars.
Comply with Jeff Burlew on Twitter: @JeffBurlew.
This text initially appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Florida deputy arrested for planting meth, different medication in almost 120 circumstances: what we all know