The viral video channel In the NOW is circulating disturbing body camera footage of a Floria police officer planting drugs in a woman’s car and arresting her. Sheriff’s Deputy Zach Wester allegedly did the same to over 100 others, which led to at least 10 arrests, but the story is far from over.
The Appeal reports that Wester was fired from his job and a criminal investigation into his behavior is currently open at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. But no charges have been filed, and some of his victims are reportedly being subpoenaed for interviews in connection with the investigation.
Tallahassee attorney Marie Mattox, who is representing victims in cases against Wester, told Tallahassee Democrat she was working with 30 back in May and assured there would be more in the future.
“The level of devastation in the lives of these folks is horrific. They’ve lost everything.”
Wester’s behavior might have gone unnoticed if it weren’t for one assistant state attorney that was responsible for reviewing evidence before filing charges in several arrest categories, including drug possession.
“This is an exaggeration, but it felt like his name was on half the cases. It was seriously disproportionate,” said Christina Pumphrey, who was an assistant state attorney at the 14th Judicial Circuit in May 2018.
A Florida cop has arrested dozens of innocent people after planting drugs in their cars during traffic stops pic.twitter.com/peWZy8BPm1— In the NOW (@IntheNow_tweet) June 30, 2019
Pumphrey discovered disturbing similarities across the body camera footage of Wester’s arrests. Not only were they not always conducted legally, but they also contained footage that conflicted with written affidavits. She also noted that people’s reactions to the arrests seemed unusual.
“It wasn’t, ‘OK, crap, I’m busted.’ It was, ‘What do you mean?’”
More concerning is that after the subsequent investigation of Wester and his firing, the attorney’s office did not make an immediate move to drop the cases of the people that were still out on bond or behind bars. In fact, Pumphrey said she was “getting an explicit instruction to not dismiss the cases.”
“I know these people are sitting in jail. I know that the particular charges they’re in jail on they’re either innocent of, based on the information I see, or there’s no way I could take this in front of a jury,” she said, adding that she was instead told to let the victims remain imprisoned.
Derek Benefield spent 7 months in Florida's Jackson County jail, after Sheriff’s Deputy Zachary Wester claimed to have found methamphetamine & marijuana in his car. Now, his case & 118 others have been thrown out & Wester is accused of planting evidence. https://t.co/1dhqLMMPC2— The Appeal (@theappeal) June 28, 2019
Although some victims are suing Wester, many of the arrested are still dealing with the effects of their charges. Some also had prior drug charges, meaning the consequences of their arrest were amplified, and the small community of Jackson County, where Wester worked, heard of their arrests and viewed them differently.