It Takes Nine Months to Bring Down One Corrupt Cop, 14,000 work hours, 10 State Investigators — What Are We Celebrating?
Disgraced Jackson County Deputy Zach Wester was finally arrested, this Wednesday, after months-long investigations. Wester was arrested and charged with 52 counts all in, apart from the racketeering charge others include official misconduct, false imprisonment, fabricating evidence and possession of a controlled substance. He was also charged with misdemeanor charges of perjury, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Former Deputy Zach Wester was fired last October, after initial suspension in August. Zach has been planting drugs on unsuspecting motorists and hauling them off to jail. This went on for a while before rumors hit the courthouse and an internal investigation was kicked off. During the internal investigation, deputies searching his patrol car found 42 pieces of drug paraphernalia, ten baggies of methamphetamine and five baggies of marijuana concealed in an unmarked and unsecured evidence bag in the trunk.
Officers who brought him in wrote in their arrest affidavit, “The multiple items located were consistent with and similar in appearance to, items believed to have been used to fabricate evidence during (his) traffic stops and arrests.”
Given the scope of Zach’s racket, it took Florida’s Department of Law enforcement (FDLE) more than nine months to pin him down and finally arrest him in Crawfordville. He chose to remain silent and didn’t speak to the agents of FDLE, for now, Zach will be held in Wakulla County Jail to await his trial. And yes, there’s no bail for him.
Sheriff ‘disheartened’ by Deputy’s Actions
Jackson County Sheriff Lou Roberts, State Attorney William “Bill” Eddins of the 1st Judicial Circuit and Chris Williams, Special Agent in charge of the FDLE’s Pensacola office, discussed the baffling case on Thursday, after the arrest. One of Wester’s alleged victims, Teresa Odom, wept as they discussed details of the case.
“I’m overwhelmed,” she said afterward, adding she was proud of one of the FDLE agents who worked with her during the investigation.
Sheriff Roberts thanked the community for their patience during the investigation, even though, the community has repeatedly voiced their concern over the prolonged investigation. He explained the delay was caused by Hurricane Michael, and how “disheartening” the deputy’s actions were.
“No agency wants to go through this kind of situation and face the embarrassment of the public. This is a very serious matter,” said Roberts, who’ll be seeking re-election next year. “We’re supposed to set higher standards, and the allegations that were made in this case will be tried.”
The Investigation Continues
Williams emphasized that the case was still open and public can call FDLE’s Pensacola office if they have any information about Wester’s exploits.
“FDLE has assigned a team of 10 special agents and two crime analysts who have logged over 1,400 hours on this case already. And it’s still ongoing today.” Explained Williams, while declining to speak of any further details about the investigation.
“There is no question that Wester’s crimes were deliberate and that his actions put innocent people in jail,” Williams said.
Christina Pumphrey, a former assistant state attorney in Marianna who helped bring Wester’s alleged misdeeds to light, said she was “incredibly surprised” to learn of his arrest because she didn’t think he’d ever get charged.
“I’m glad he’s off the road,” she said. “I’m glad he’s obviously facing charges. It doesn’t change what the rest of the people went through because of him. It doesn’t give them their time back. It doesn’t give them their money back. It doesn’t expunge their records — they still have at least arrest histories. But it’s still something.”Christina Pumphrey, Former Assistant State Attorney
The investigation led to the
Wester’s Victims — Now His Comeuppance
Teresa Odom, who was present at the press conference, was arrested last year by Wester. Her charges were dropped after allegations against Wester came to light. Another one of his alleged victims, Benjamin Bowling, was arrested in 2017 on charges of possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia, according to the arrest affidavit.
Wester claimed he smelled marijuana in the vehicle, though Bowling, a passenger, and the driver denied doing drugs. But Wester persisted and insisted despite Bowling telling him he’d been clean since an earlier DUI arrest and he was being tested regularly after gaining custody of his daughter.
To share the extent of Wester’s depravity, Bowling volunteered for the drug test and asked for DNA verification of the drugs found in his vehicle plus requesting the video from Wester’s body cam. In spite of his protests, Bowling lost his daughter’s custody after the arrest.
Wester now faced a maximum penalty of 30 years in state prison for the racketeering charge. The other felonies carry maximum sentences of five years. Eddins said that under Florida’s sentencing guidelines, Wester could face 13 and a half years in prison if convicted on all charges, though a judge could opt to give him more time behind bars.
You know, we hear all the time about “a few bad apples” all the time, as if