A former Florida sheriff’s deputy was arrested Wednesday for planting drugs and falsely arresting at least 10 people, including one case where Reason obtained body camera footage showing him lying about the results of roadside field test.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) announced yesterday that, following a months-long investigation, former Jackson County sheriff’s deputy Zach Wester had been arrested and charged with 52 felony crimes, including racketeering, false imprisonment, fabricating evidence, and drug possession.
In a stunning 30-page affidavit, the FDLE laid out how Wester kept unmarked bags of marijuana and methamphetamines in the trunk of his patrol car, manipulated his body cam footage, planted drugs in people’s cars, and falsified arrest reports to railroad innocent people under the color of law. His victims, many of whom had prior records or were working to stay sober, had their lives upended. One man lost custody of his daughter.
“There is no question that Wester’s crimes were deliberate and that his actions put innocent people in jail,” Chris Williams, the FDLE’s assistant special agent in charge, said in a press release.
The Jackson County sheriff suspended Wester last August; it fired him after body camera footage, first reported by the Tallahassee Democrat, appeared to show him planting a baggie of methamphetamines in the car of Teresa Odom. After Wester’s credibility was destroyed, the local state attorney’s office dismissed more than 100 criminal cases where he was the primary or sole officer, and a judge vacated eight more criminal convictions.
Reason then filed a public records request for body camera video from those dismissed cases. We uncovered footage of Wester falsely arresting another person, Florida resident Steve Vann.
Wester pulled over Vann on April 17, 2018, for allegedly crossing over the center line. Although the body camera footage mysteriously starts in the middle of the traffic stop, it shows Wester rummaging through Vann’s car before appearing to find a small plastic bag.
“Honesty is going to go a long way with me,” Wester tells Vann, holding up the baggie. “Have you ever seen this before?”
“No, no what is that?” Vann says. “Where’d you get that?”
“The center console,” Wester says as he walks back to his patrol car to perform a roadside test of the baggie for methamphetamines.
“There ain’t no way, man,” a distraught Vann says. “Oh my God, you gotta be fucking kidding me.”