Day 4: Trial of Former Jackson County MP Zach Wester
JACKSON COUNTY, Fla. (WTXL) – Zach Wester, the former Jackson County deputy fired for filing evidence at traffic stops, faces his third day of trial with testimony from defendants and deputy officers.
Maria Thompson is the She was arrested by Wester in 2017 because he said he smelled like marijuana.
“I told him there was no way,” Thompson said. “That I hadn’t smoked marijuana. The only thing I smoked was a cigarette.
Thompson told Wester during the arrest that she was on drug addiction probation. She says he then detained her and put her in the back of his patrol car. He then began to search his car.
Thompson says she watched Wester come and go from his patrol car during the search. After going to his car, he tells her that he found crystal meth.
Thompson says she watched him perform a field test kit. She says he didn’t show her the test, but from his perspective, she didn’t see it change color. When he saw me looking “he threw it”.
“I was clean and sober when he stopped me,” Thompson said.
Thompson brought a civil action.
The next witness is Kathy Shelton, DOC senior probation officer. She was Thompson’s probation officer and tested Thompson for drugs before the arrest and it was negative.
Witness Billy Benton took the stand for the second time. He was present during Lt. Hodges’ search of Wester’s patrol car. He confirms that nothing was discovered when the camera turned off.
Captain Kevin Arnold, a helicopter pilot for the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, then testified.
Arnold said Wester had received complaints about evidence of planting.
Quinton Hollis, the fifth witness of the day, was in charge, among other things, of the mandates and the inventory of the equipment of the JCSO. He made an inventory of Wester’s patrol car.
Searching Wester’s first aid kit, he found unlabeled marijuana and alerted Lt. Hodges.
Thursday’s sixth witness, Diana Chase, took the stand for the third time. She took back the evidence Lt. Hodges had seized from Wester’s patrol car.
Chase identified and listed the details of 68 pages of photos of evidence seized from Wester’s patrol car for the jury.
Chase said a box of Fossil watches containing marijuana residue as well as small plastic ziplock bags were found in Wester’s patrol car. They also seized two plastic cans, a metal smoking pipe, two plastic knives and a syringe.
Photos show drugs and accessories seized from Wester’s squad car. None of these are labeled or contain information about their origin.
Chase asked why drugs were kept in Wester’s squad car.
The state had originally planned to call the accused’s father, Robert Wester, to the stand, but instead released him and recalled Kevin Arnold to discuss the patrol division and reports of the CAD.
Arnold said Wester had not responded to any drug-related incidents the day his car was taken for a search and confirmed that Wester had not responded to any drug seizures in the previous month. Arnold also said Wester has not responded to any abandoned property incidents.
Nikki Finch, Sgt. above the expedition to the JCSO took the next position. She confirmed that there were no records of Wester responding to drug seizures before her car was searched.
Sam Catalani, a 21-year veteran in the drug service seized by the FDLE, has tested the evidence in this case.
Catalani said testing resulted in a positive identification of methamphetamine and marijuana.
After the break, Diana Chase spoke for the fourth time.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement opened its investigation into Wester in August 2018 and believes his actions have led to more than 100 people being wrongfully charged. Wester pleaded not guilty in July.
According to court records, Wester is reviewing 76 counts that include official misconduct, perjury, fabricating evidence, possession of drugs and false imprisonment.
In most of the incidents reported in the affidavit, Wester’s body camera was not recording or recording only part of the stop, whether it was the initial connection to the driver or after a search of the car has already started.
Investigators believe Wester placed drugs and other accessories in the cars of at least 16 victims while his camera was turned off.
“The investigation revealed 42 items of drug paraphernalia, 10 separately packaged amounts of methamphetamine and five separate items of marijuana. All of these items were recovered from Deputy Wester’s patrol vehicle,” said Chris Williams , deputy special agent in charge of the Pensacola FDLE region. .
Details of the first day of Wester’s trial can be found by clicking here.
Details of the second day of Wester’s trial can be found by clicking here.
Details of the third day of Wester’s trial can be found by clicking here.
If Wester is convicted of all charges, he faces about 13 and a half years in state prison.
The jury is made up of two female jurors and seven male jurors. The trial is expected to last about three weeks.