Deputy Arrested for Planting Drugs Is a Reminder of Police Corruption

officer faces more than 50 counts of racketeering

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

A former Florida deputy is accused of planting drugs during traffic stops, ABC News reported. The Jackson County Sheriff’s deputy, Zachary Wester, has been arrested for a slew of crimes, including fabricating evidence. It’s reminiscent of other historical police corruption cases.

Body cam footage of former Jackson County Sheriff's deputy Zachary Wester planting illegal substances
Civil rights laws exist to protect civilians who have suffered injustices during police corruption cases. Photo by Florida Department of Law Enforcement

According to the ABC News article, the 26-year-old Wester will face a total of 52 counts of racketeering, “including nine counts each of official misconduct, fabricating evidence, possession of an illegal substance, false imprisonment, misdemeanors of perjury, and possession of drug paraphernalia.” So far, 11 people have testified that Wester planted drugs on them during routine traffic stops. Unfortunately, this is neither the first nor the largest case of police corruption in American history. In the past, police officers have consciously broken the law and the oath they took to protect the public.

The Mystery of Harvey and Jeannette Crewe

An anonymous tip about a lone shell casing led New Zealand police to arrest and convict a suspect in the 1970 double homicide of Harvey and Jeannette Crewe. The convicted party was their neighbor Arthur Thomas, whose rifle had already been taken into police custody and test-fired by the police ballistics team. Thomas was granted a retrial amid public outcry, but he was again found guilty in 1973. As the ordeal seemed increasingly strange, a newspaper editor convinced forensic scientist Dr. Jim Blott to re-examine the tell-tale shell casing allegedly fired from the murder weapon.

“Sprott determined the [shell] case was just too noncorroded to have been outside and exposed to the elements for over four months,” said Dr. Elizabeth A. Murray, Professor of Biology at the College of Mount St. Joseph. “Sprott believed the evidence had been planted at the crime scene. Also supporting this theory was the fact that the area had already been exhaustively searched two times by the police before that shell casing was found.”

Dr. Murray explained that, as a result, in 1980, a Royal Comission of Inquiry reversed the conviction after determining that two policemen had planted the shell as evidence to suggest Thomas’s rifle was the murder weapon. However, neither police officer was tried for the murder nor the planting of evidence due to “insufficient evidence.”

Officer Justin Volpe: When Police Get Caught

In 1997, Haitian immigrant Abner Louima was taken into police custody after a brawl at a nightclub in New York City. “At the police station, he was brutally tortured and even sodomized by [NYPD] Officer [Justin] Volpe,” Dr. Murray said. “Louima’s teeth were broken—he suffered such serious internal injuries, he had to be taken from the local precinct to a hospital. There, Officer Volpe alleged some of the injuries were from the fight in front of the nightclub, during which, the officer claimed, Louima sucker-punched him—although the blow was actually delivered by some other man.”

Dr. Murray said that one of Louima’s nurses called authorities to report her suspicions that his injuries were caused by police. After three major surgeries over a two-month hospital stay, Louima was released. Volpe pleaded guilty to the assault and was sentenced to 30 years in prison without parole; the NYPD awarded Louima $8.75 million in damages.

Abner Louima, like the wrongfully convicted Arthur Thomas and the victims of Jackson County Sheriff’s Deputy Zachery Wester, suffered terrible injustice at the hands of law enforcement officials—and they’re not alone. They offer a glimpse into a horrifying world of police corruption and brutality that is fought against by more honorable police and a scrutinizing public eye.

Dr. Elizabeth A. Murray, Ph.D.

Dr. Elizabeth A. Murray contributed to this article. Dr. Murray is a forensic anthropologist and also Professor of Biology at the College of Mount St. Joseph. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from the College of Mount St. Joseph and her master’s degree in anthropology and Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Biology from the University of Cincinnati.