Citing a conflict of interest, the local prosecutor originally in charge of the drug-planting probe into a former Jackson County sheriff’s deputy has turned the case over to a Pensacola state attorney.
This past week, assistant state attorney for the 14th judicial circuit Larry Basford handed the case against disgraced ex-Jackson County deputy Zachary Wester case to Bill Eddins, state attorney for the first judicial circuit, according to court documents. Basford said Wester’s father had previously been employed by the local state attorney’s office, which represented a conflict of interest.
Basford told the news website MyPanhandle.com that the transfer of the Wester case to the first judicial circuit was also “to help the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigate the case.”
Wester was fired from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office in September 2018, after being accused of numerous spurious arrests over drugs he allegedly planted on unsuspecting motorists. Body camera video appears to show Wester planting a crystalline substance believed to meth in motorists’ vehicles during consented searches, according to court documents.
Shortly after Wester’s termination, state attorneys dismissed more than 100 cases handled by Wester, and more dismissals could be forthcoming in the ongoing investigation, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The dismissals resulted in dozens of prisoners being released from Florida correctional facilities, and the ordeal has left the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office with a self-described black eye.
Jackson County is also facing numerous false arrest lawsuits as a result of the case.