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Former Jackson County deputy Zachary Wester (above) was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison for planting drugs on innocent drivers during traffic stops and then arresting them
A former Florida sheriff's deputy has been sentenced to more than 12 years in prison after he was caught on body-camera video planting drugs on innocent drivers during traffic stops and then arresting them.
Former Jackson County deputy Zachary Wester, 28, was found guilty on 19 charges in May including racketeering, official misconduct, fabricating evidence, perjury, false imprisonment and possession of controlled substances and drug paraphernalia.
As a result, prosecutors had to drop charges in nearly 120 cases that occurred between 2016 and 2018 because of the accusations that Wester planted evidence.
During his trial, the prosecution argued that the drugs found by investigators were ready-to-plant evidence Wester used during his traffic stops.
Body camera video presented during the court proceedings showed Wester holding what appeared to be baggies filled with drugs surreptitiously before searching cars after stopping them.
While the motive behind Wester's actions remains unknown, prosecutors believe it could have been his desire to serve in the narcotics division.
Earlier this year, Former Jackson County Sheriff's Office Captain Scott Edwards told the Tallahassee Democrat that a job in the narcotics division came with pay increases, overtime, other less tangible benefits and more prestige.
'[Wester] mentioned in the past that he'd like to work narcotics,' Edwards confirmed to the newspaper.
He also noted that he would also look for 'proactive' deputies to serve in the narcotics department and is quoted saying he knew Wester to be proactive.
On Tuesday, about two months after his week-long trial, Wester was issued a prison sentence of 12 years, six months and eight days, WCTV reported.
Prosecutor Tom Williams had asked the judge to to sentence Wester to 15 years, saying he committed 'an egregious breach of the public's trust'.
'People voluntarily grant their government awesome powers they deem necessary for public safety and protection,' Williams said. 'With that great power comes great responsibility. The defendant made choices to violate that trust and committed crimes against those people he was sworn to protect.'
Wester's wife Rebecca, as well as more than 50 others, expressed their support for the former deputy and begged the judge for leniency. They argued that he is a good, churchgoing man who volunteers in his community.
'When that career ended, suddenly I watched a part of him and myself as well die,' Rebecca Wester said. 'This blow is one that will not be overcome quickly, and honestly one we may never overcome.
'The Zach that is in the court before you today is a mighty man of God. Has been greatly missed, but the place he has been missed the most is in our home.'
However, those who were directly impacted by Wester's illegal actions, felt quite differently about his character.
Teresa Odom, one of Wester's victims, told the judge he had ruined her reputation and deprived her of time with her grandchild.
'You robbed me of my credibility and being a mother and grandmother over the last two and a half years,' she said to Wester during Tuesday's trial. 'I wish you no ill will. But you´ll never know what you did to me until you have children of your own.'
One of Wester's victims, Teresa Odom (right), appeared in court Tuesday to tell the judge (left) how the former deputy had ruined her reputation and deprived her of time with her grandchild
Wester stopped Odom for a defective brake light in 2018 and asked for permission to search her truck. She agreed.
He claimed he found a baggie of methamphetamine in her purse, but body camera video showed him palming a bag before beginning his search.
Odom, who vehemently denied the drugs were hers when confronted by Wester, later pleaded no contest and received four years probation.
That conviction has since been thrown out.
Beginning in August of 2018, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement conducted a nearly year-long investigation into Wester after authorities noticed his name as arresting officer on a disproportionate number of drug arrests.
Multiple officials had expressed concern that Wester's vehicle searches were not always conducted legally, citing that his written affidavits did not always match what was shown in video footage.
Investigators say they found drugs hidden inside Wester´s patrol car and analyzed over 1,300 minutes of body-camera video to build their case against him.
Wester was fired from the Jackson County Sheriff’s office in September 2018 and arrested in July 2019 as a result of investigation. He went to trial in May 2021.
During a nearly year-long investigation, agents found drugs hidden inside Wester´s patrol car and analyzed over 1,300 minutes of body-camera video to build their case against him