A recently fired Florida sheriff’s deputy was arrested for planting false evidence in cars he had pulled over.
Some 120 convicted persons were exonerated once the actions of Zachary Wester were discovered.
“There’s no question that Wester’s crimes were deliberate and that his actions put innocent people in jail,” said Chris Williams of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).
An example of the damage these specific false arrests have done to individuals include the case of Benjamin Bowling.
Wester arrested Bowling in October 2017 and charged him with possession of meth- amphetamine. This false charge implied he violated a condition of his release after a DUI conviction. Florida’s
child welfare agency had recently awarded Bowling custody of his daughter. He lost custodial rights to his daughter based on the phony arrest.
In another case, investigators said Wester planted a used syringe with traces of methamphetamine in Joshua Emanuel’s car. According to investigative reports, Emanuel told investigators Wester was smirking and telling him he was going to jail until a Florida Highway Patrol officer stopped while Wester was searching Emanuel’s car.
The trooper realized Emanuel was a distant relative, whose mother was em- ployed by two local prominent attorneys and whose father was employed in the federal prison system. Wester’s behavior dramatically shifted, and he changed the police report to state the syringe may have belonged to someone else.
The FDLE commenced its investigation last August at the sheriff’s office request. Wester was fired approximately 30 days later.
FDLE filed charges against Wester that included felony charges of racketeering, official misconduct, fabricating evidence, possession of a controlled substance and false imprisonment.
Wester also faces misdemeanor charges of perjury, possession of a controlled substance, and possession of drug paraphernalia.
The investigative police reports define the sheriff’s criminal behavior identifying he “routinely pulled over drivers for minor traffic infractions, planted drugs and then arrested them on made-up drug charges, including Bowling who lost his daughter over the arrest” reported the Associated Press on July 10.
Wakulla County Jail and court records show Wester was booked July 10 and was being held without bail.