Zachary Wester, 26, a former deputy with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, was charged with 52 counts of racketeering for allegedly using the sheriff’s office to commit various crimes, Florida State Attorney Bill Evans said in a news conference Wednesday.
The charges include nine counts each of official misconduct, fabricating evidence, possession of an illegal substance, false imprisonment, misdemeanors of perjury and possession of drug paraphernalia, Evans said.
Investigators found 42 items of drug paraphernalia in Wester’s car, including 10 separately packaged quantities of methamphetamine and five separately packaged quantities of marijuana, said Chris Williams, assistant special agent in charge of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Pensacola region.
Eleven people have testified that Wester planted drugs on them, Evans said. The majority of the victims were locals, but it does not appear that Wester was targeting a specific group of people, said Evans, who declined to speculate about the motive behind Wester’s actions.
There were several instances in which Wester’s body camera was turned off before the drugs were “located,” and other instances in which the body camera was “turned on only after the drugs were located,” Evans said.
Wester was a deputy with the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office for less than a year before he was hired by Jackson County in May 2016, Williams said.(MORE: Bodycam video appears to show Baltimore police officer planting drug evidence: Public defender)
An internal investigation was launched after concerns arose surrounding Wester’s work. Jackson County Sheriff Lou Roberts asked state authorities to conduct an independent investigation after Wester was fired last September, Evans said.
Wester made more than 100 arrests during his time with Jackson County, but investigators do not believe that “every one of those is a false arrest or that he planted drugs on every one of those,” Evans said.
Evans does not plan to offer a plea deal and is ready for a speedy trial, he said.
“It is the policy of my office not to plea bargain cases of this nature,” he said.
Wester was arrested Wednesday morning in Wakulla County and is being held without bond. He is expected to be transported to Jackson County to be tried, Evans said.
It is unclear whether Wester entered a plea during his court appearance Thursday morning, or if he has retained an attorney.