Suspected misconduct by former Jackson County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Zachary Wester, fired from his job on Sept. 10, has led State Attorney Glenn Hess to file for the vacating of pleas and subsequent sentencing in six criminal cases, and dismissal of at least 41 pending cases in which Wester was a primary witness.
Other dismissals could follow — there are 263 cases in which Wester was involved this year, at varying levels, and all of those are being reviewed. At least one of those in which he was involved has already been through court, with the defendant’s plea and sentence set aside by a judge this Wednesday.
Hess said he’s called for the dismissal of charges and of pleas/sentencing in some cases because of information provided to him by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in a preliminary investigative report and a video/photo he saw as part of that report.
FDLE is conducting an internal investigation into Wester’s activities on behalf of Jackson County Sheriff Lou Roberts. That probe was triggered after allegations against Wester came to light. Hess said people in his office as well as defense attorneys had come to him with concerns.
Hess said Thursday that he’d seen a single video — but there are others to review — that led him to believe, in at least one case, Wester planted a packet of methamphetamine in the vehicle of a woman he’d pulled over. The woman denied that the methamphetamine was hers. Hess has filled to have that case dropped based on his review of the video’s content.
According to a letter Hess sent to Roberts, still photos from body camera video “show Deputy Wester place a clear plastic baggie in a white pickup truck that he had stopped and for which he had been given permission to search.” The letter goes on to advise that Wester arrested the driver of that truck for possession of methamphetamine and paraphernalia.
In a letter to defense attorneys, Hess advises them of the investigation into Wester’s professional conduct.
After the allegations began to surface, Wester was suspended with pay for roughly six weeks, starting at the first of August, then terminated the next month.
Roberts would offer no comment on the matter, saying he was forbidden to do so in a case that remains open by FDLE. That agency would not release any information, either, except to acknowledge that, on Aug. 1, JCSO requested FDLE conduct a criminal investigation regarding allegations of official misconduct on the part of Wester, and that the investigation remains active.
Hess said he has “lost confidence in Wester’s professionalism” to the point that he wouldn’t use Wester’s testimony in cases where he was the primary investigator/witness. Hess said he couldn’t win the cases without Wester’s testimony and wouldn’t want to present it based on what he has concluded so far.