© 2024 WFSU Public Media
WFSU News · Tallahassee · Panama City · Thomasville
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Zachary Wester Trial Continues: Video Of Patrol Car Search Played In Court

Still image taken from the video of Zachary Wester searching Teresa Odom's vehicle in February 2018.
Jackson County Courthouse
Still image taken from the video of Zachary Wester searching Teresa Odom's vehicle in February 2018.

Zachary Wester, the former Jackson County Deputy accused of planting drugs on people during traffic stops, is on trial this week. Blaise Gainey reports most of the testimony so far has been from victims, many sharing similar stories.

"Reason for my traffic stop just doing a routine check for the tag it’s not coming back with anything for this tag. Do you have any registration or anything? Cause that would help me out just a little bit."

That’s former Deputy Zachary Wester pulling over Derek Benefield in 2017. During the stop Wester asks Benefield and two other passengers to exit the vehicle because he claims to smell marijuana. During testimony this week, Assistant State Attorney Tom Williams asked Benefield about the stop.

"Did he tell you why he was pulling you out?" asked Williams.

"To search us he said it smelled like marijuana," said Benefield.

"Had you been smoking marijuana in the car that day?" asked Williams.

"No, sir," answered Benefield.

"Had you been smoking recently in that car?" asked Williams.

"No, sir," answered Benefield

"Did you have a chance to know whether it did smell like marijuana to you in that car that day?" asked Williams.

"No sir, I know it didn’t," answered Benefield.

During the search of Benefield’s vehicle, Wester claimed to have found another drug.

"Underneath, now I’m not going to say underneath the front passenger seat we shifted it forward a little bit and the right," said Wester. "Let’s say here’s your seat right here, right here was that little container that I showed both of you and that I tested the contents of both of you right there."

Benefield was arrested and later sentenced to one year in county jail. Seven months into his sentence he was released along with others who had similar arrests by Wester.

Investigators caught onto the scheme following the arrest of Teresa Odom in February 2018.

When reviewing Wester’s body camera video, Assistant state attorney Christina Pumphrey saw something hidden in his hand prior to him searching Odom’s vehicle. A bag of methamphetamine was found in her truck during the search.

That image led to an investigation, which included searching Wester’s patrol car. Mike Hodges, a former Sheriff in the internal affairs division at Jackson County Sheriff’s Office conducted the search. He testified in court Wednesday.

Assistant State Attorney Williams asked him what he found.

"Pause the video. Was that a Crown Royal brand bag or one of those purple brand bags? What did you find inside of that what did you see?" asked Williams.

"I believe that was suspected marijuana," answered Hodges.

And there was more.

"What’s that item?" asked Williams.

"That’s a syringe," answered Hodges.

"How long have you been in law enforcement?" asked Williams.

"30 years," answered Hodges.

"Have you had training and worked narcotics cases, narcotics arrest in your career?" asked Williams.

"Yes, Sir," answered Hodges.

"Are you aware whether or not a syringe can be used to inject controlled substances?" asked Williams.

"Yes," answered Hodges.

"Specifically, methamphetamine?" asked Williams.

"Yes," answered Hodges.

And it didn’t stop there.

Is that a watch case, a fossil brand watch case?

"Yes sir," answered Hodges.

Alright, and what are you finding inside at this point in the video?

"A bunch of different sizes mainly the small type of clear plastic baggies," answered Hodges.

Prosecutors argue Wester planted the drugs inside victims’ cars. The defense has not yet made its arguments.

The trial is expected to last until May 28.

Blaise Gainey is a State Government Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.