A former deputy with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office has been accused of planting cannabis, methamphetamine and other drugs in the vehicles of unsuspecting drivers during routine traffic checks.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) has arrested Zachary Wester, 26, on felony charges of racketeering, official misconduct, fabricating evidence, possession of a controlled substance and false imprisonment. Wester also faces several misdemeanour charges, bringing the total count to 52.
“There is no question that Wester’s crimes were deliberate and that his actions put innocent people in jail,” Chris Williams, FDLE Pensacola assistant special agent in charge, noted in a July 10 press release. “I am proud of the hard work and dedication shown by our agents and analysts on this case to ensure justice is served,” Williams said.
Following a nine-month investigation, police determined that Wester routinely pulled over drivers for alleged minor traffic infractions, planted drugs inside their vehicles and arrested them on fabricated drug charges. Police combed through more than 1,300 minutes of recorded video and have put 1,400 hours of officer time into the case so far.
CNN reports that three federal lawsuits have been filed against Wester, two in December 2018 and one this past May. The most recent filing, which involves nine plaintiffs, one of the victims, Lora Penn, alleges she was a passenger in a vehicle pulled over June 7, 2018. During the stop, she contends, Wester placed methamphetamine and a hypodermic needle in her purse.
Since the investigation began, 119 cases involving Wester have been dropped. In a news conference on Wednesday, investigators shared that there did not appear to be a pattern or motive with regard to why Wester targeted the alleged victims.
His bail is set at US$169,500. If convicted, Wester could face up to 30 years in prison.
Want to keep up to date on what’s happening in the world of cannabis? Subscribe to the Cannabis Post newsletter for weekly insights into the industry, what insiders will be talking about and content from across the Postmedia Network.
Written by Ashley Keenan