On the order of Circuit Judge Christopher Patterson, six people have been released from state prison, those individuals serving sentences in cases in which former Jackson County Deputy Zachary Wester was involved as a primary witness.
Wester was fired from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office on Sept. 10 after a six-week suspension, and a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation of Wester is underway.
Patterson also dismissed or vacated 40 pending felony cases in which Wester was involved, and 19 others in earlier stages of development were dropped at the level of the state attorney. County Judge Wade Mercer dismissed 53 misdemeanor and criminal traffic cases. A juvenile case was also dismissed.
State Attorney Glenn Hess of the 14th Judicial Circuit, and now State Attorney Jack Campbell of the 2nd Judicial Circuit, are reviewing cases in which Wester was a key factor. Campbell’s review is based on Wester’s work as a deputy in 2nd-circuit Liberty County, before he took the job with Jackson County in the 14th circuit.
The FDLE probe was triggered after allegations surfaced that Wester planted drugs on some people he pulled over on traffic stops. That investigation is ongoing and FDLE has not publicly disclosed any information on the findings regarding Wester’s alleged conduct so far.
Wester had worked for JCSO since mid-2016. Prior to that, he worked for Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, and some of his cases in that jurisdiction are now also reportedly under review by State Attorney Jack Campbell.
Although FDLE has issued no public report on findings so far, the agency did share some preliminary information with Hess, who has released body camera video materials that he said has made him lose confidence in Wester’s professionalism. Hess said that, based on what he saw, he could not proceed in good faith with cases in which Wester was a primary factor. He ordered the review of all 263 cases in which Wester was involved this year, either as a primary or to a lesser degree.
As a result, many charges have been dismissed in pending misdemeanor, traffic and felony cases, and convictions and sentences vacated in some Wester-involved cases where defendants were in prison or had already finished their sentences.
The people who were released from state prison, within 24 hours of the issuance of the judge’s order are: Tillman James McCroan, Vikki Loraine Stephens, Justin Caleb Creamer, Edward John Lang Jr., Timothy James Bruner and Abranda Dawn Ward.
Patterson’s order followed a joint visit to his chambers by Hess and Public Defender Mark Sims, court officials said.