An unknown item can be seen in Wester’s left hand around the 4:53 minute mark. Tallahassee Democrat
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A former Florida deputy was arrested Wednesday morning on numerous charges that he planted street drugs like meth on unsuspecting motorists before hauling them off to jail.
Zach Wester, 26, was arrested on felony charges of racketeering, official misconduct, fabricating evidence, possession of a controlled substance and false imprisonment.
The one-time Jackson County deputy faces misdemeanor charges of perjury, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said.
He was arrested by FDLE agents and taken to the Wakulla County Jail, where he is being held without bail.
Whispers of misconduct about Wester began to surface around the courthouse last August, sparking the FDLE's investigation at the request of the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.
Wester was placed on leave Aug. 1 and fired amid an internal affairs investigation a month later.
The investigation found Wester routinely pulled over citizens for alleged minor traffic infractions, planted drugs inside their vehicles and arrested them on fabricated charges, the FDLE said.
He also allegedly circumvented the Jackson County Sheriff's Office body camera policy and "tailored" his recordings to conceal his crimes, the FDLE said.
“There is no question that Wester’s crimes were deliberate and that his actions put innocent people in jail,” said Chris Williams, assistant special agent in charge of the FDLE’s Pensacola office.
“I am proud of the hard work and dedication shown by our agents and analysts on this case to ensure justice is served.”
However, the FDLE said the case remains active and asked that the public report any information or tips to the agency's Pensacola office.
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.
"It doesn't change what the rest of the people went through because of him," she said. "It doesn't give them their time back. It doesn't give them their money back. It doesn't expunge their records — they still have at least arrest histories. But it's still something."
Nearly 120 people have been exonerated
Sheriff Lou Roberts, who had been silent on the Wester investigation since the Tallahassee Democrat broke news of it last year, said in a news release he appreciated the FDLE and the State Attorney’s Office for the 1st Judicial Circuit, which oversaw the investigation.
“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,” Roberts said.
Agents analyzed more than 1,300 minutes of recorded video and logged more than 1,400 working hours on the case, the FDLE said.
The allegations prompted prosecutors in the town of Marianna to review nearly 300 cases in which Wester was involved. They ultimately dropped charges in nearly 120 cases.
The investigation was put on hold, temporarily, after Hurricane Michael barreled into northern Florida, causing widespread destruction in Jackson County. The inquiry resumed in earnest this year.
More than a dozen people who were arrested by Wester have filed lawsuits or notices of their intent to sue the Sheriff's Office over the former deputy's alleged misconduct.
This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Former police officer Zach Wester arrested, accused of planting drugs