Accused Florida deputy denies planting drugs in stopped cars

MARIANNA, Fla. — A former Florida sheriff’s deputy on trial for allegedly planting drugs during traffic stops testified that he is innocent, saying he found a stash of narcotics discovered in his patrol car but could not explain why he never reported it.

Fired Jackson County deputy Zachary Wester testified at his trial Friday that he found the methamphetamine, marijuana and syringes inside a box at a park restroom while investigating a report of suspicious activity. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Wester guessed that it had been placed there to be found by an inmate work crew so it could be smuggled back inside the prison.

Internal affairs investigators found the drugs hidden inside his patrol car in the summer of 2018, shortly before he was suspended. Prosecutors say it was ready-to-plant evidence that Wester used during his traffic stops.

He was charged in 2019 with racketeering, official misconduct, fabricating evidence, false imprisonment, perjury and possession of drugs and paraphernalia in connection with a dozen traffic stops where he arrested drivers and passengers. Prosecutors had to drop charges in nearly 120 cases involving Wester that occurred between 2016 and 2018 because of the accusations that he planted evidence.

Wester, 28, said he wasn’t sure how an inmate work crew would get the drugs back inside the prison, “but it was extremely uncommon for that to be packaged the way it was and for it to be placed where it was.”

He denied ever planting evidence, saying “that never crossed my mind.”

But during cross-examination by prosecutor Tom Williams, Wester conceded that he never reported finding the drug box, which would have been one of the largest seizures of his career. He said he had gone to two traffic crashes after finding the drugs and was busy processing them when he was confronted and suspended.

Wester also explained why body camera video showed him carrying a bag of methamphetamine before he searched the truck of a woman he had stopped for faulty brake lights. He testified he had found the bag in her door latch, but in his report he said he found it inside the truck in her purse.

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