‘Something we’re not proud of’: Fired deputy Zach Wester arrested in drug planting probe


https://www.tallahassee.com/story/news/local/2019/07/10/former-jackson-county-deputy-zach-wester-arrested-drug-planting-probe/1691366001/

Fired Jackson County Deputy Zach Wester was arrested Wednesday on racketeering and numerous other charges for allegedly planting meth and other street drugs on unsuspecting motorists before hauling them off to jail.

Agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, who have been investigating Wester for more than nine months, arrested him in Crawfordville and took him to the Wakulla County Jail, where he is being held without bail. Wester, expected to make his first court appearance on Thursday, invoked his right to remain silent and declined to speak with investigators.

More: Read the arrest warrant for former Jackson County Deputy Zach Wester

He was arrested on 52 counts in all. Aside from the racketeering count, he was charged with a number of other felonies, including official misconduct, false imprisonment, fabricating evidence and possession of a controlled substance. He was also charged with misdemeanor charges of perjury, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia, FDLE said.

Jackson County Sheriff Lou Roberts, State Attorney William “Bill” Eddins of the 1st Judicial Circuit and Chris Williams, special agent in charge of the FDLE’s Pensacola office, discussed the case in an afternoon news conference. One of Wester’s alleged victims, Teresa Odom, wept as they discussed details of the case.

“I’m overwhelmed,” she said afterward, adding she was proud of one of the FDLE agents who worked with her during the investigation.

‘Something we’re not proud of’

Roberts, who had been silent about the Wester allegations since the Tallahassee Democrat broke the story last year, said Wester’s alleged crimes were “disheartening.” He thanked the community for its patience during the investigation, which got sidetracked after Hurricane Michael hit Oct. 10.

“This is something we’re not proud of,” said Roberts, who plans to retire and not seek re-election next year. “No agency wants to go through this kind of situation and face the embarrassment of the public. This is a very serious matter. We’re supposed to set higher standards, and the allegations that were made in this case will be tried.”

Eddins and Williams offered new details in the case, including a large amount of drugs found in Wester’s vehicle during an internal affairs probe that began last August. But investigators declined to give a possible motive for Wester’s alleged actions.

“You’re never certain of the ways of the heart of man,” Eddins said. “We have some ideas and some theories, and we’ve talked about that a lot. But I do not feel that it would be appropriate to go into it in any detail at this time.”

Williams emphasized that the case was still open, and he asked the public to call FDLE’s Pensacola office if they have any information about Wester.

“A significant investigation has been and is being conducted,” Williams said. “FDLE has assigned a team of 10 special agents and two crime analysts who have logged over 1,400 hours on this case already. And it’s still ongoing today.”

Eddins, who was assigned the case after Glenn Hess, state attorney for the 14th Judicial Circuit recused himself, said he was prepared to go to trial now if Wester demands a speedy trial. And he said he will not allow a plea bargain in the case in part because it involves a public employee. He added that so far, no evidence has been found that any other deputies or other Sheriff’s Office personnel worked in concert with Wester. 

“It’s been my experience in monitoring this investigation that the law enforcement community in Jackson County is honest, professional and they do not condone or support illegal activity,” Eddins said. “I cannot overstate how complete and how well (the Sheriff’s Office) cooperated with us.”

‘His actions put innocent people in jail’

FDLE began its investigation last August at the request of the Sheriff’s Office after whispers of misconduct by Wester began to surface around the courthouse. He was suspended Aug. 1 and fired a month later. During the internal investigation, deputies searching his patrol car found 42 pieces of drug paraphernalia, ten baggies of methamphetamine and five baggies of marijuana concealed in an unmarked and unsecured evidence bag in the trunk.

“The items located within Deputy Wester’s patrol car were not maintained as required of legitimate evidence, items for safe keeping or items for destruction,” the arrest affidavit says. “The multiple items located were consistent with, and similar in appearance to, items believed to have been used to fabricate evidence during (his) traffic stops and arrests.”

THE BACK STORY:

The investigation found Wester routinely pulled over citizens for alleged minor traffic infractions, planted drugs inside their vehicles and arrested them on fabricated charges. It also found that Wester misused his body camera, sometimes turning it off before drugs were located or turning it on just after they were found.

“There is no question that Wester’s crimes were deliberate and that his actions put innocent people in jail,” Williams said in a news release. “I am proud of the hard work and dedication shown by our agents and analysts on this case to ensure justice is served.”

Christina Pumphrey, a former assistant state attorney in Marianna who helped bring Wester’s alleged misdeeds to light, said she was “incredibly surprised” to learn of his arrest because she didn’t think he’d ever get charged.

The last I read, the Supreme Court has determined that a police office can’t required a person stopped for a traffic stop.. they cannot make a person wait for a “drug dog” and handler to show up to “sniff the car” if the person declines for the officer to search the car. The Supreme Court declared that the detaining of a person was consider a unreasonable SEARCH AND SEIZURE… violation of the 4th Amendment.

I once saw a video before this Supreme Court ruling where the person allowed his car to be “searched by a dog” . little did the police know that the person they have pulled over .. was a trainer of these dogs and he pointed out in the video where the dog was responding to the officer’s signal to react as if there was contraband in the person’s car.

Needless to say that this person, got the charges dropped… what happened to the canine officer… after this case was thrown out… I don’t remember.

2 Responses

  1. “Drugs” and the associated Fear of the Fear of Drugs seems to be being used a lot to move law enforcement types and other types up higher on ladders. Everyone one law abiding or needing them can’t even get near them without becoming criminalized or caught in some kind of Catch-22 so powerful is the word “drugs” and the dramatic images it creates.

  2. Should be noted REPUBLICAN former governor and now U.S. Senator Rick Scott’s hand picked state law enforcement chief Rick Swearingen also comes from Jackson county FloriDuh. Same place where “this” cop misconduct was going on. And only was revealed via Cop CAMERA!
    ASA Pumphrey pressed (hard) to get Wester investigated and was forced out of her job by…Lou Roberts and Bill Eddins.
    She is a whistleblower of heroic proportions! Sadly what is left of a tattered Fourth Amendment ONLY exists due to those willing to sacrifice a career for our Constitution like her!
    The state Republican gubbmint connections run deep as a cypress bog here in May-Ranna, as the old timers call the Jackson county seat.
    Look into former sheriff Johnny Mac’s wife being killed by two would-be “hostage takers” in early 2000’s for additional intrigue BTW.
    Jackson county is consistently one of the top ten FloriDuh counties that most heavily votes Republican in FloriDuh.
    Anyone want to weigh in on cause and effect as it relates to OUR FOURTH AMENDMENT? And whose side what POLITICAL PARTY is on?? Trump has killed the Obama prohibition on giving local cops military hardware BTW. I feel safer don’t you???

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