MARIANNA, Fla. (AP) — A former Florida sheriff’s deputy whose patrol car was found to contain a stash of narcotics was convicted Tuesday of planting drugs during traffic stops.
A Jackson County jury found fired deputy Zachary Wester guilty on 19 of 67 total counts, including racketeering, official misconduct, fabricating evidence, perjury, false imprisonment and possession of controlled substances and drug paraphernalia, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. Jackson County is located in the Florida Panhandle, northwest of Tallahassee.
Internal affairs investigators found the drugs hidden inside Wester’s patrol car in the summer of 2018, shortly before he was suspended. Prosecutors say it was ready-to-plant evidence that Wester used during his traffic stops.
Wester was charged in 2019 in connection with a dozen traffic stops where he arrested drivers and passengers. Prosecutors had to drop charges in nearly 120 cases involving Wester that occurred between 2016 and 2018 because of the accusations that he planted evidence.
Wester testified at his trial Friday that he found the methamphetamine, marijuana and syringes inside a box at a park restroom while investigating a report of suspicious activity. The former deputy said he guessed that it had been placed there to be found by an inmate work crew so it could be smuggled back inside the prison.
Wester, 28, said he wasn’t sure how an inmate work crew would get the drugs back inside the prison, “but it was extremely uncommon for that to be packaged the way it was and for it to be placed where it was.”
He denied ever planting evidence, saying “that never crossed my mind.”
But during cross-examination by prosecutor Tom Williams, Wester conceded that he never reported finding the drug box, which would have been one of the largest seizures of his career. He said he had gone to two traffic crashes after finding the drugs and was busy processing them when he was confronted and suspended.
Wester also tried to explain why body camera video showed him carrying a bag of methamphetamine before he searched the truck of a woman he had stopped for faulty brake lights. He testified he had found the bag in her door latch, but in his report he said he found it inside the truck in her purse.
A sentencing date has not been set.