The next time you read a news report that says Officer XYZ from a police department found Person ABC in possession of illegal drugs, think of Deputy Zachary Wester and remember that things are not always what they appear to be.
A few days ago, former Jackson County (Florida) Sheriff’s Deputy Wester was found guilty of 19 criminal charges, including fabricating evidence, false imprisonment, racketeering, official misconduct and possession of illegal drugs.
Back in 2018, an area newspaper reported that “prosecutors were dropping dozens of cases involving Wester” after a bodycam video surfaced that appeared to show the deputy planting a small plastic bag of methamphetamine inside a woman’s car during a traffic stop.
In January of 2019, Reason magazine used a public records request to obtain footage of Wester appearing to find another small bag of meth in the center console of a man’s vehicle during a traffic stop.
The man protests that the bag isn’t his, but Wester proceeds to the back of his patrol car and pops the trunk.
You can watch him perform a quick Nark II field test on the substance in the bag. Though the test turns red and not blue (red is negative for meth; blue is positive), Wester tells the man the test came up positive.
“There ain’t no way, man,” the driver wails. “Oh, my God, you gotta be ——- kidding me.”
The deputy wasn’t kidding, however. The man was charged with meth possession.
When Wester was himself arrested, he was accused of keeping unmarked bags of meth and marijuana, as well a collection of drug paraphernalia in his patrol car’s trunk, planting drugs in cars during traffic stops and falsifying arrest reports in order to put innocent people behind bars.
Many of his victims had criminal records or drug histories and were working to stay sober. All of them had their lives turned upside down by the drug charges. According to a Reason report, one man lost custody of his daughter.
At trial, Wester denied planting drugs, claiming that his body cam didn’t work properly. He said the drugs in his patrol car trunk had been seized earlier in the day he’d been arrested, and he hadn’t had a chance to inventory them.
The jury did not believe him, finding him guilty on more than a dozen charges.
Unfortunately, Wester is not the only officer to resort to planting evidence in order to impress superiors and colleagues.
If you’ve been arrested, you should talk over the details of the stop, search, questioning and arrest with a criminal defense attorney experienced in protecting rights and freedom.