Former Jackson County Sheriff’s Deputy accused of planting drugs makes first court appearance

Former deputy Zachary Wester is accused of planting drugs on people during traffic stops. (Jackson County Sheriff's Office)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - A fired Jackson County Sheriff’s Deputy charged with planting drugs on unsuspecting motorists made his first appearance Thursday after his arrest on 33 felonies ranging from official misconduct to fabricating evidence to false imprisonment.

Former Deputy Zach Wester found himself in the same position he put at least nine other people in, sitting in jail, facing a judge setting his bond.

In addition to the nearly three-dozen felonies, Wester is also facing 19 misdemeanors.

His lawyers asked for a $51,000 bond.

“I don’t think there’s anything to show he will not appear,” said Wester’s attorney Ryan Davis.

The judge more than tripled the defense's request.

As part of any bail, the Wester may not have any contact with any of the victims.

Wester’s parents and wife watched the hearing near tears. His father is a law enforcement veteran with the same agency.

“He obviously denies the allegations,” said attorney Tim Jansen, who is representing Wester.

When asked how Wester could deny video evidence taken from his own body camera during a 2018 traffic stop, which appears to show Wester planting drugs in a woman’s purse. Jansen said the legal team had not seen any of the evidence yet.

“We requested a high monetary bond in this case because of the nature of the offenses. It was a pattern of ongoing conduct, and it went to the heart of the nature of the criminal justice system,” said prosecuting attorney Thomas Williams.

In Jackson County, 119 cases have already been dismissed. At least 14 cases in Liberty County, where Wester first worked, are also being thrown out.

But like all of the victims in this case, their records are stained with an arrest.

“I can’t say that even though they were arrested, prosecuted, and maybe entered a plea,” said Second Judicial Circuit State Attorney Jack Campbell, "I can’t say they whether they were guilty or not because I no longer have confidence in the officer that was involved in that case.”

FDLE logged more than 1,400 man-hours to make their case.

Prosecutors say they are ready if the defense requests a speedy trial.

The case remains open. FDLE has asked any other potential victims to come forward.