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Trial Day 2 of former Jackson County Deputy Zachary Wester

"We all need justice."
Posted at 11:09 AM, May 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-11 18:56:28-04

JACKSON COUNTY, Fla. (WTXL) — Zach Wester, the former Jackson County Deputy fired for planting evidence during traffic stops, faces his second day on trial with witness testimony from those charged and backup officers.

Tuesday's court session began with Trevor Day, the 10th witness.

Second session

Day says he was pulled over in May 2018 by Deputy Zach Wester. He says he bought the car a month prior to his arrest.

Day says he was pulled over for no lights, but Wester made bot passengers get out of the car because he smelled weed.

Day says he had smoked weed in the car days prior and there were roaches in the car, but no smell.

The wtiness said Wester went back and forth between his car and the patrol car, but never explained to them why.

According to Day, Wester told Day and a female passenger they’re being detained and were handcuffed. Day says he wasn’t told about meth at that time.

Day says is heard saying “I don’t know what he went back there and got,” as Wester goes back to the car in the video.

Day says Wester showed him a baggie of meth and said “there’s no way” the drugs were in his car.

Bodycam shows Day decline the meth. He told officers he bought the car from his mother who was a meth addict. Day told the prosecution his mother was clean at the time.

The video shows at that point the backup officer reminds Wester to continue the search when he almost allows Day, who was wearing swimming trunks, to get pants before getting arrested.

“The more I keep finding stuff, the more I think you’re lying to me,” Wester tells Day in the video, as he brings a fingernail clipper case.

Day says Wester had come from the back of the patrol car to show him the case. Day said he never saw what was inside it.

Day says he chose pretrial intervention and probation rather than fighting the charges brought against him.

"If I would have fought it and lost, then I would have went back to jail for something I didn't do," said Day.

He says he had never seen meth before the stop, despite his mother's use.

Day says he has a pending civil suit going on right now. When asked why he's suing, Day tells the prosecutor, "They tried to ruin my life and they need to pay for it."

The 11th witness, Kimberly Wood, was arrested with Trevor Day during that stop.

Wood and Trevor were dating at the time of the arrest. Wood says she saw the weed in the car but she never saw a "crystalized white substance."

"We had just cleaned the car earlier," Wood said. "We had been through it previously and knew what was in there."

Wood says she told Wester, "We would never mess with something like that." when he told her he found meth in the car.

The arrest record says the torn plastic baggie was found in the center console near the passenger seat. Wood maintains she doesn't recall seeing that.

Wood says she entered the same pretrial intervention plea as Day and her charges were eventually dropped after Wester's arrest.

Wood has a civil suit pending as well.

"We all need justice," says Wood.

Jackson County Sgt. Jeffrey Tarter, the backup deputy involved in the traffic stop is the 12th witness.

WITNESS 12: Jackson County Sgt. Jeffrey Tarter.

"As a backup officer, when you only have two there, one will be at the car and one will be at the back of the patrol car with the subjects for safety," Tarter said.

Tarter says he never saw Wester place meth in the car or do anything to throw up a red flag.

Witness 13, Richard Driggers was also pulled over by Wester in February of 2019 on his way home from work.

Driggers said he thought the patrol car with flashing lights would go around him but Wester stopped Driggers about his headlights.

The witness says Wester showed him a needle with foil wrapped around it during the search and Wester is heard via bodycam asking Driggers if he uses meth or cocaine.

Bodycam video of Driggers and Wester

Driggers said it had been about a month since he last had a passenger in the car with him.

In the bodycam video, Driggers admits he used to use meth but stopped once he lost his kids.

Wester asks to see his arms and notes there are no needle marks, then tells Driggers he's being arrested.

"It's not mine," Driggers said. "I swear to God it's not mine. When I did meth, I smoked it but I never shot it up."

Driggers tells the court he had been clean for six or seven years at the time of the stop.

"This is my first time in jail and I ain't done nothing," Driggers is heard saying on a phone call to someone to pick up his car and dog.

In the bodycam footage, Driggers asks Wester if they can fingerprint the needle. Wester says that's FDLE's job and despite that, because it was in Driggers' car, it means he's in possession.

"I normally don't go through this much trouble to help somebody out," Wester says as he places Driggers in handcuffs.

Witness 13, Richard Driggers

"I knew nobody was going to believe it wasn't my stuff," said Driggers. "He's a cop."

Driggers says he couldn't afford a lawyer to defend himself.

When asked why he didn't file a civil suit, Driggers responded, "It caused me a lot of emotional stress and it cost me money trying to pay my fines. I paid it all off but somebody should pay me back for all of the money that I lost."

Trooper Chris Maloney, the 14thwitness, was the backup Deputy when Wester arrested Driggers. Maloney was with JCSO at the time.

WITNESS 14: Trooper Chris Maloney. He was the backup Deputy when Wester arrested Driggers. Maloney was with JCSO at the time.

"I stood back with Driggers while Officer Wester conducted the search," Maloney said.

Maloney says he didn't see anything unusual about the stop.

Joshua Clenney is the 15th witness. Clenney says he was in his father's truck, headed to the hospital to pick up his girlfriend when Deputy Wester pulled him over.

Clenney says Wester told him he was being pulled over for a seat belt violation and gave Wester permission to search the vehicle because there was no reason to hide anything.

Clenney tells Wester and back up that he's headed to pick up his wife from surgery. Wester is seen in the truck from the body cam but nothing up close since the officer is standing near the patrol car.

Witness 15: Joshua Clenney

"She had pancreatitis and almost died," he explains to the officers. "I gotcha man. You can search it," He tells Wester when the deputy says he has probable cause due to the smell of weed.

"I would never lie to you. I was dead honest to you about everything. This is violating me on everything. That's not mine, I didn't put that there. I've been just as honest with you as everything in the world." Clenney pleads with Wester once he hears he's being arrested.

"I got no d*mn idea what that is," Clenney said to Wester in the bodycam footage. "You can drug test me right now. I have no reason to lie to you, sir."

Clenney told Wester this would ruin his probation, his chances to see his daughter and his girlfriend.

Clenney is tearing up in this body camera footage and says at the time he was scared and distraught and didn't know what was going on.

"I felt ambushed. I felt scared. I've never been in a situation where someone would plant drugs in my truck," Clenney testified. "He was the last person in my truck and it wasn't in there before he left."

Clenney says at the time he felt he had no choice but to plead guilty.

"Their officer planted drugs in my vehicle illegally. I was told by my probation officer he would enter me into rehab if I did a guilty plea. I would be concerned they would choose an officer's word over mine any day of the week," Clenney says.

Jackson County Patrol Sergeant David Carlberg, witness 16, was the backup deputy when Joshua Clenney was stopped in March 2018 and supplied the bodycam footage.

Sgt. Carlberg says he had no reason to believe there was a cause for concern with how Wester handled the traffic stop at the time, testifying that meth is a problem in Jackson County. He also said it's not unusual for people to deny drugs belong to them and uncommon for people to admit to it.

Third session

Witness 18, Benjamin Bowling was also pulled over by Wester in October of 2017, with his fiancé.

Bowling says Wester came back from his car and said he found meth in the center console of the car. He said the console was broken and the top was missing. Bowling says had never seen anything like that in the console.

Bowling said Wester told three different versions: one story that it was in the seat, one that it was in the console, and one that it was in between the seat and console.

Witness 18, Benjamin Bowling

Bowling says there were no other officers on the scene at the start of the search.

"I've got a pretty good nose," said Bowling. "It was emitting from the officer, not my vehicle. But I wouldn't think an officer would do something like that."

Says the car they were in during the traffic stop was their everyday driver. Bowling says Wester told them their tag lights were out but then noticed they were dim. Wester also says he saw them swerving. Bowling says it was normal driving but they did swerve to avoid roadkill.

Bowling was recently released from prison, in November, and only had his prison ID to give Wester. He said he was focused on custody and getting the job so he didn't work to get another ID before the arrest. He has two prior felony convictions.

Bowling and his girlfriend granted permission to search the car after Wester said he smelled weed. Bowling says his girlfriend was three months pregnant and neither had smoked any weed.

    Bowling took a plea deal. He says he didn't think anyone would believe him and he was concerned about going back to prison.

    Bowling is one of the people who filed a civil suit.

    "I lost my child because of this. It was very wrong," he said.

    Shelly Smith, witness 19, was driving the car Benjamin Bowling was in when Wester stopped the couple.

    WITNESS 19, Shelly Smith

    Smith says she was pregnant at the time and "knew there was nothing in [the car]", so gave Wester permission to search the car.

    Smith says she took ownership of the drugs to ensure Bowling didn't lose his daughter but said it wasn't her meth and she never saw it.

    The 20th witness is Laura Parish. She worked with the State Attorney's Office in Jackson County from 2010-2019.

    WITNESS 20: Laura Parish. She worked with the State Attorney's Office in Jackson County from 2010-2019.

    Parish says Deputy Wester did not show up for his deposition despite being served. The particular deposition was in Benjamin Bowling's case. She was also the Driggers' prosecutor and Wester did no appear for deposition. Parish says it is not unusual for deputies to skip depositions.

    Parish says she didn't press Wester because Bowling took a misdemeanor and Driggers took pretrial release.

    Fourth sesson

    Teresa Odom, the 21st witness. Prosecutors say Wester was caught on body camera placing drugs in her car.

    WITNESS 21: Teresa Odom. Prosecutors say Wester was caught on body camera placing drugs in her car.

    Odom said she was driving her daily car. She says Wester told her the lights were flickering. She said she didn't know of any issue with lights.

    Wester asks Odom instead of a K9 search if he has permission to search Odom's car. He's heard canceling the K-9 call in the body camera footage.

    Wester and Odom are heard joking during the traffic stop via Wester's body cam. Prosecutors stress this is some of their strongest evidence against Wester.

    "That is not mine. No sir," Odom protests when Wester shows her a baggie.

    Odom says the spoon found in her truck was used when she ate yogurt in the truck, holding back tears while she testifies.

    Wester tells Odom he has to tow her truck. In some of the other videos, he allows people to get someone to drive it home.

    The next video the jury sees is Odom in the back of Wester's patrol car. In the courtroom, Odom shakes her head and continues to hold back tears while the video plays.

    Witness 22, the final witness for the second trial day is Diana Chase. She reviewed the body camera video of Odom's stop for FDLE.

    BACKGROUND

    The Florida Department of Law Enforcement began its investigation into Wester in August 2018 and believes his actions resulted in more than 100 people being wrongly charged. Wester entered a not guilty plea in July.

    According to court records, Wester is looking at 76 charges that include official misconduct, perjury, fabrication of evidence, possession of drugs, and false imprisonment

    In most of the incidents reported in the affidavit, Wester's body-cam was either not recording, or only recorded part of the stop, whether that was the initial connection with the driver, or after a search of the car had already started.

    Investigators believe that Wester placed drugs and other paraphernalia inside at least 16 victims' cars when his camera was off.

    "The investigation revealed 42 items of drug paraphernalia, 10 separately packaged quantities of methamphetamine, and five separate items of marijuana. All of those items were recovered in deputy Wester's patrol vehicle," said Chris Williams, Assistant Special Agent in charge of FDLE Pensacola region.

    Details from day one of Wester's trial can be found by clicking here.

    If Wester is found guilty of all charges, he could face about 13 and a half years in state prison.

    The jury consists of two female jurors and seven male jurors. The trial is anticipated to last roughly three weeks.