A former sheriff’s deputy was arrested in Florida this week after a yearlong investigation determined he had planted drugs on at least 10 innocent people after pulling them over at traffic stops.
Until last fall, Zachary Wester, 26, had been employed as a deputy in Jackson County on Florida’s panhandle, about an hour west of Tallahassee. He was apprehended Wednesday in Crawfordville, Florida, on 52 counts of felony charges including racketeering, official misconduct, fabricating evidence, possession of a controlled substance and false imprisonment, according to the state’s Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).
He was also charged with misdemeanor perjury, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Wester’s arrest came after the FDLE conducted an investigation, starting last August, into allegations he had covertly planted methamphetamine and other illicit substances in innocent drivers’ vehicles after pulling them over to conduct a search. Wester, who joined the department in 2016, was reportedly terminated from his job in September.
“There is no question that Wester’s crimes were deliberate and that his actions put innocent people in jail,” Chris Williams, FDLE’s assistant special agent in charge, said in a statement. “I am proud of the hard work and dedication shown by our agents and analysts on this case to ensure justice is served.”
The investigation, which involved authorities analyzing more than 1,300 minutes of recorded videos, concluded that Wester frequently pulled over citizens for “alleged minor traffic infractions,” according to authorities. During a subsequent search of their vehicles, he “planted drugs inside” and “arrested them on fabricated drug charges.”
To conceal his crimes, Wester evaded official body camera policy by tailoring his recordings. According to a 30-page arrest warrant, the FDLE found unmarked bags of marijuana and methamphetamine in the trunk of his car, as well as drug paraphernalia allegedly used to plant on his victims, many of whom had prior records.
One of Wester’s victims lost custody of his daughter as a result of the planted drugs, said investigators, while others he targeted suffered life-changing consequences. The investigation prompted prosecutors to drop charges on almost 120 cases involving Wester that occurred from 2016 to 2018.
“I would like to thank the citizens of Jackson County for their patience during the investigation and my staff for continuing to serve our citizens during this difficult time,” Jackson County Sheriff Lou Roberts said. “I also appreciate FDLE and the State Attorney’s Office for their commitment to this investigation.”
Following his arrest, Wester was booked into the Wakulla County Jail. He is currently being held without bond.