By Nelson Oliveira | New York Daily News
A Florida sheriff’s deputy was sentenced this week to 12 years in prison for planting drugs inside innocent people’s cars during traffic stops and arresting them on fabricated charges.
Zachary Wester, 28, routinely stopped drivers for minor traffic violations and then planted methamphetamine, marijuana and other drugs in their vehicles — a shocking move that was sometimes caught on his own body-worn camera, according to prosecutors.
The crooked cop was fired from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office after internal affairs investigators found some of those drugs hidden in his patrol car in the summer of 2018. The scandal led prosecutors to drop charges in almost 120 cases involving Wester between 2016 and 2018.
One of the victims who testified at his sentencing hearing Tuesday said the false arrest ruined her reputation and forced her to stay away from her grandchild.
“You robbed me of my credibility and being a mother and grandmother over the last two and a half years,” said Teresa Odom, who was stopped for a defective brake light in 2018 and ended up jailed on drug charges.
Odom denied having the drugs but eventually pleaded no contest and received four years’ probation. The conviction was expunged from her records after body-cam video showed Wester holding a baggie of meth before he even searched her car.
“I wish you no ill will,” she told him in the courtroom. “But you’ll never know what you did to me until you have children of your own.”
Following a week-long trial in May, Wester was convicted on 19 of the 67 charges he faced — including fabricating evidence, false imprisonment, perjury, racketeering, official misconduct and possession of controlled substances and drug paraphernalia.
Prosecutor Tom Williams called Wester’s crimes “an egregious breach of the public’s trust.”
“People voluntarily grant their government awesome powers they deem necessary for public safety and protection,” he told Circuit Judge James Goodman on Tuesday.
“With that great power comes great responsibility,” Williams said. “The defendant made choices to violate that trust and committed crimes against those people he was sworn to protect.”