Police Misconduct Accusations Turn Into Criminal Investigation
(FL) – Public defenders had warned State Attorney Christina Pumphrey about Deputy Zachary Wester. When she looked into his arrests she began to see problems and quickly discovered an ugly truth. No one in the State Attorney’s Office wanted her to bring the problems to light. She was able to get video to the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department which started an internal affairs investigation. That internal affairs investigation became a criminal investigation, but within her own office, Pumphrey was ostracized and ignored.
According to WomenWhistleblowers.com,
Naturally, she was uncomfortable prosecuting cases that may have been tainted by Wester. She also knew that she wouldn’t have had much of a future in the office, particularly one that valued discretion. “One of the constant repetitive comments was, ‘We don’t talk to anybody, keep it in the office,’” she told the paper. “What I took it to mean was everybody keeps their mouth shut and the public doesn’t find out.”
Deputy Framed Innocent People During Traffic Stops
What Attorney Pumphrey had discovered was that Deputy Zachary Wester was planting drugs on innocent people during traffic stops. She found several body camera videos that did not match up with the officer’s report that went with the video. Pumphrey also found a video where Wester palmed a package then, with a clenched fist, approaches a car to search it. A car he ends up “finding” drugs in.
Deputy Wester seemed to “target poor, white residents with criminal histories.” He knew no one would believe them and that they didn’t have the money to fight the charges. After his actions were discovered, 119 criminal cases, where he was the arresting officer, had to be dropped because they were tainted.
Multiple Felony Charges Filed Against ex-Deputy
Zachary Wester initially had “67 total charges” filed against him that involved 11 individuals. He ended up being convicted on 19 of those charges involving three individuals. Those charges included “racketeering, official misconduct, perjury, fabricating evidence, possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia, and false imprisonment.”
The racketeering charge is the highest level felony and is the one the defense attorney is going to try to appeal the case on. But that leaves plenty more charges. Possession of a controlled substance is a felony level charge. Wester was convicted of three counts of possession of a controlled substance. It appears that the possession of a controlled substance charges were only in relation to the arrests. It’s unclear why when they discovered the drugs in his patrol car, ready to be planted on people, it wasn’t an additional charge.
“The investigation revealed 42 items of drug paraphernalia. Ten separately packaged quantities of methamphetamine and five separate quantities of marijuana,” said Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent Chris Williams.
Judge James Goodman stayed true to his duty, regardless of the character witnesses Weston had, and sentenced him to 12 years, 6 months and 8 days in jail.
Multiple Civil Lawsuits Filed Against the Sheriff’s Office
Not surprisingly, multiple people have filed civil lawsuits against Wester and the Sheriff’s Department. The Appeal noted, in 2019, that nine individuals had filed civil lawsuits. I suspect that number has increased by now. At least one man, targeted by Wester, lost custody of his daughter because of the arrest. They all deserve restitution. The checks and balances should have caught the problem, but people chose to turn a blind eye instead.