For nearly a year, an ex-Florida sheriff's deputy suspected of planting meth and other drugs on drivers has been under the eye of investigators. On Wednesday he was arrested based on their findings. The Tallahassee Democrat reports 26-year-old Zachary Wester, formerly of the Jackson County Sheriff's Office, faces 52 counts of racketeering, possession of a controlled substance, and fabricating evidence, among other charges. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement began looking into the allegations against Wester last August; after a suspension, he was fired in September. Investigators found dozens of pieces of drug paraphernalia, as well as baggies of meth and pot, that "were consistent with, and similar in appearance to, items believed to have been used to fabricate evidence during [his] traffic stops and arrests," per an arrest affidavit.
Investigators determined Wester's MO was to pull people over for alleged minor traffic violations, then plant drugs inside their cars and arrest them; he allegedly turned his bodycam off at times. They did not discuss a possible motive. "There is no question that Wester's crimes were deliberate and that his actions put innocent people in jail," Chris Williams, special agent with the FDLE, said in a statement. One man even lost custody of his daughter after Wester pulled him over in 2017 and arrested him for possession of meth. The AP reports that prosecutors were forced to drop charges in nearly 120 cases tied to Wester between 2016 and 2018. Wester was booked into the Wakulla County Jail Wednesday and is being held without bond; he faces up to 30 years if convicted. (Read more police officers stories.)