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Ex-Deputy Arrested In Jackson County Drug Planting Probe

A former Jackson County Sheriff’s Deputy has been arrested on several felony charges after planting drugs on people and arresting them. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement began investigating 26-year-old Zachary Wester in August.

The investigation was requested by the Jackson County Sheriff's office. Wester is facing felony charges of racketeering, official misconduct, fabricating evidence, possession of a controlled substance and false imprisonment. He was fired from the department in September, and during the investigation, FDLE Assistant Special Agent Chris Williams says drugs and paraphanalia were found in Wester's patrol car.

“There were 42 items of drug paraphernalia, 10 separate quantities of methamphetamine and five separate quantities that were actually in his patrol vehicle. And that’s just some of the evidence we recovered in the investigation so far," Williams said. 

The FDLE held a press conference Wednesday in Jackson County announcing the charges. 

Wester routinely pulled people over for minor traffic infractions, planted drugs in their vehicles then arrested them on fake charges. He would also manipulate body camera recordings to hide what he was doing in a move Williams says reflects poorly upon law enforcement officers.

“In this case, he clearly violated his oath of office. As a result of that, people lost their liberty based on his crimes.”

The Tallahassee Democrat first reported the investigation was underway last year. Some 300 cases involving Wester were reviewed and charges were dropped in nearly 120 of them. FDLE says there are roughly 110 victims and more than a dozen people have filed lawsuits or notices of intent to sue the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.

Wester has been booked into the Wakulla County Jail and is being held without bond. He has a first appearance scheduled for Thursday morning and will likely have another in Jackson County where the charges originate. 

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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