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Both Sides Rest Their Case In Zachary Wester Trial

Scales of justice on table.
New Africa
Zachary Wester was arrested in 2018 after being accused of planting drugs on motorists during traffic stops.

Former Jackson County Sheriff Zachary Wester is on trial against the state for planting drugs while searching people's cars during traffic stops. He’s facing charges of racketeering, official misconduct, fabricating evidence as well as perjury. He’s facing more than 70 charges. The state spent four days proving its case to the jury, while the defense just spent one. WFSU’s Gina Jordan talks with Blaise Gainey about what’s taken place.

Gina Jordan: Hey Blaise, So first give a quick update of where we are now with the case?

Blaise Gainey: So today Zachary Wester’s defense started its case. The state rested its case Thursday afternoon. Assistant State Attorney Tom Williams is on the case. Here’s a bit from his opening statement.

"In some, the evidence in this case will demonstrate that the defendant planted methamphetamine and paraphernalia in these victims' cars when he had complete access and complete control. He used this fabricated evidence to arrest them, to take them to jail," said Williams. "He falsely documented these facts in reports that the sheriffs office relied on the court system relies on. And once his patrol car was searched it will be evident exactly how he committed these crimes."

And to prove that, Williams used the internal investigation done on Wester that led to the search of his patrol car which found marijuana and methamphetamine that was not labeled or packaged for evidence.

Along with testimony from victims who say they’ve never seen meth before Mr. Wester arrived or hadn’t used it in years.

Zachary Wester however is pleading not guilty, and he went on the stand today to tell his side of the story.

Gina Jordan: Is Wester pleading not guilty to planting all of these drugs? Even though charges have been dropped for more than 100 people?

Blaise Gainey: Yes, Wester is pleading not guilty. His defense attorney Ryan Davis asked the judge for an acquittal after the state rested its case. It was denied and this morning Davis has been trying to persuade the jury that Wester is innocent. Friday Wester testified, here’s a bit of what he had to say about the narcotics found in his car.

"So, when I was sitting in the vehicle i had the big brown bag that we saw on the video and on the photo. And I was seperating the narcotics the contents from the bag putting the suspected narcotics into the clear evidence file," said Wester. "My plan was in one bag to put the suspected narcotics in another bag put the paraphernalia so that the evidence custodian could dispose of those items however state statute deems appropriate"

So Wester says he was just processing evidence that he found from a call he went to earlier in the day.

Gina Jordan: Where does this case fit into the national conversation about trust in police and police integrity?

Blaise Gainey: Well it doesn’t help. Wester, in many people’s eyes, isn’t just a one-off. And at least on social media, I’ve been seeing people now begin to, whether jokingly or serious, question his dad’s ethics. Robert Wester, Zach’s dad, spent 33 years with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office. He served as lead of the drug task force and chief investigator.

Gina Jordan: What is the recourse for victims? What happens with the money in civil suits, where does sovereign immunity come in for municipalities?

Blaise Gainey: The amount of damages that can be recovered in a case against the state is limited to $200,000 against one government agency, i.e., Jackson County Sheriff's Office. If victims are awarded more they will need to have a legislature sign a bill and request more damages. Which can take years.

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.