A judge vacated sentences of at least eight people in state prisons and correctional facilities who were arrested by a former Jackson County deputy accused of ginning up traffic stops and planting meth on unsuspecting drivers.
Circuit Judge Christopher Patterson entered the orders Wednesday in the Jackson County Courthouse in Marianna, about an hour’s drive west of Tallahassee. State Attorney Glenn Hess also announced in court documents that charges would be dropped in the cases, all of which involved former Deputy Zachary Wester.
“(An) investigation conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office into the professional conduct of Deputy Zach Wester has revealed facts that undermine the state’s confidence in the case,” Hess wrote in documents filed in each of the cases.
Patterson also ordered Jackson County Sheriff Lou Roberts to take custody of at least five of the inmates, transport them back to the county and release them immediately.
The inmates, all of whom were convicted on methamphetamine and other drug charges, were being held at correctional facilities from Quincy to Lake City. One of the inmates had been arrested twice by Wester, according to court records.
Meanwhile, the State Attorney’s Office said charges have been dropped against thirty-plus other defendants who were arrested between 2016 and 2018, when Wester worked as a patrol deputy for the Sheriff’s Office. One of the defendants was a juvenile.
Hess on Wednesday said his office is reviewing a total of 263 cases involving Wester dating back two years.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement opened an investigation into Wester on Aug. 1 at the request of the Sheriff’s Office. The case is open and ongoing, and no charges have been filed against him. Wester, 26, of Marianna, was fired Sept. 10.
No one answered the door at Wester’s home off Highway 71 in Marianna after a reporter knocked on Wednesday afternoon. His attorney, Steve Meadows of Panama City, told reporters he would not comment on the pending case.
Hess told the Tallahassee Democrat on Wednesday that he lost confidence in Wester after seeing the deputy’s body camera video from a Feb. 15 arrest of an Alford woman, Teresa Odom, on charges of possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.
In the video, Wester can be seen holding something in his left hand before he begins searching the woman’s pickup truck and finding a similar-looking item, presumably the meth. The Democrat obtained a copy of the video on Wednesday; the State Attorney’s Office released it to media outlets on Thursday.
Wester went to work for the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office in May 2016. Before that, he worked about nine months as a deputy for the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office. He worked under the previous Liberty County sheriff, Nick Finch, and members of the command staff under Sheriff Joe White were unfamiliar with him until news broke on Wednesday.
“We are fully prepared to work with FDLE and the State Attorney’s Office if they wish to conduct a review of any case files or case records,” said Liberty County Capt. John Summers.
Follow Jeff Burlew on Twitter: @JeffBurlew.