The evidence-planting and false arrest scheme former Jackson County (Florida) Sheriff Office Deputy Zachary Tyler Wester allegedly implemented carried severe consequences for his victims, a state document has revealed.
One man lost custody of his daughter due to his arrest, while another was arrested in front of her husband and children. Some of the descriptions the Florida Department of Law Enforcement released Wednesday indicate Wester – arrested Wednesday – harassed some of his targets as well.
The FDLE began investigating Wester late last year on charges he planted evidence on people during traffic stops in 2017 and 2018. Wester has been charged with one count each of racketeering and possession of marijuana, five counts of false imprisonment and nine counts each of official misconduct, perjury, fabricating evidence, possession of methamphetamine and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Shortly after Jackson County fired Wester in September, a judge ordered six people released from prison and another 59 people had felony cases dismissed or dropped, according to the Jackson County Floridan.
Another 53 misdemeanor and traffic cases were dismissed, as was a juvenile case, the Floridan also noted.
The following are snippets of some of the actions officials accuse Wester of committing, and some include the impact felt by his alleged victims:
>> Benjamin Bowling: On Oct. 2, 2017, Bowling was arrested on a charge of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia possession following a traffic stop. Wester alleged Bowling had flakes of marijuana on his side of the vehicle and found three bags of methamphetamine in an area wherehe observed Bowling move his hand. Wester indicated he had body camera footage of the traffic stop, but investigators could not locate it. Bowling denied knowledge of the methamphetamine and passed a drug test after his arrest. Bowling informed investigators that he submitted to regular drug tests as part of obtaining custody of his daughter, which he lost following the arrest.
>> Kimberly Hazelwood: Hazelwood was a passenger in a vehicle her husband, Jeremy, was driving when Wester pulled them over on June 7, 2018, for having lapsed insurance coverage. Kimberly was charged with possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia after Wester allegedly found off-color residue inside a migraine headache bottle. The body camera footage revealed Wester cupped his hands in a way that obscured the field test from camera view, and he quickly tossed the test results into a container out of camera view. Both Hazelwoods denied using drugs, but Kimberly was arrested on the charges in front of their children. Investigators noted Wester’s story about the location of the pill bottle progressively changed and video did not support his accusations. Video indicated Kimberly could be heard crying and wondering if she was going to lose her children because of the arrest.
>> Teresa Odom: On Feb. 15, 2018, Wester arrested Odom on charges of possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia after allegedly finding a spoon with methamphetamine residue and a bag of methamphetamine in Odom’s purse. According to investigators, video from Wester’s body camera indicated Wester could not slide a black tactical glove onto his left hand because he held a small plastic bag containing a white substance in the palm of his hand. Wester then dropped his hand out of view toward the driver’s seat, and his hand reappeared empty. Wester then put his gloves on and began the search of Odom’s truck.
>> Steve Vann: On April, 17, 2018, Wester stopped a vehicle Vann was driving and eventually arrested him for possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. In a sworn affidavit, Wester said he found a bag that contained a crystallized substance that tested positive for methamphetamine. Wester’s body camera footage started 20 minutes into the traffic stop. Furthermore, despite multiple shakes of the field test kit from Wester, the solution appeared to never turned blue – which would indicate the presence of methamphetamine.
After Jackson County suspended Wester, the department searched his patrol car and found several items containing drugs and drug paraphernalia in various places in his car, the report said. None of the items were labeled with case numbers or other identifying information to indicate they had been part of legitimate seizures.