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A Florida sheriff’s deputy who planted drugs on several innocent motorists was sentenced to more than 12 years behind bars this week.
Zachary Wester, 28, was found guilty last on 12 felony charges and seven misdemeanors, including fabricating evidence, false imprisonment, official misconduct, perjury, racketeering, as well as misdemeanor possession of controlled substances and drug paraphernalia.
On Tuesday, a circuit judge sentenced him to just over 12.5 years in state prison. He’d originally faced 67 charges.
Wester planted methamphetamine and other drug paraphernalia on nearly a dozen drivers during traffic stops between 2017 and 2018, according to an arrest affidavit obtained by Oxygen.com. In many cases, Wester allegedly manipulated body camera footage and cited the suspected odor or presence of marijuana as grounds to search vehicles during traffic stops.
Wester was placed on administrative suspension by the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office on Aug. 1, 2018.
Investigators later seized a trove of unsecured narcotics, including methamphetamine, marijuana, as well as other drug paraphernalia, such as dozens of plastic baggies, a syringe, a pill bottle, and rolling papers from his patrol car.
Detectives concluded the items had been used to fabricate evidence.
Wester was terminated from the force on Sept. 10, 2018. He was hired as a road deputy by Jackson County in 2016 after he earned his police certification from the law enforcement academy at Chipola College, according to his lawyer.
Prosecutors, who described Wester’s actions as “an egregious breach of the public’s trust," had asked for a 15-year prison sentence.
“In democratic free societies, the people voluntarily grant their government with awesome powers which are deemed necessary for the protection and governance of the people,” Prosecutor Tom Williams said in a statement sent to Oxygen.com. “And with that power comes great responsibility. The defendant chose to violate this trust and commit crimes against the very citizens that he had sworn to protect. His actions thus attack the very foundation of the criminal justice system and protections that we enjoy in free democratic societies.”
Wester’s defense attorney, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.
Wester quickly moved to file a notice of appeal the day after his sentencing. Michael Ufferman, the Tallahassee defense lawyer overseeing the appeal, vowed to diligently fight the court’s ruling. According to court documents, Wester is pursuing acquittal on the grounds that prosecutors failed to adequately prove the racketeering charges he was facing.
“Based on Mr. Wester’s compliance with his previous conditions and his strong ties to the community, there is no basis to believe that he would do anything other than abide by all court orders and surrender at the appropriate time should his convictions and sentence be affirmed,” Ufferman wrote in a pre-trial release motion, which Oxygen.com obtained.
A judge, however, denied Wester’s post-trial release and appellate bond, pending his appeal.
Wester is currently being held at a Jackson County jail. He’s expected to be remanded to the Florida Department of Corrections to begin serving his sentence in the coming weeks.
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