Police have cleared the former chair of the Florida Republican Party of rape allegations, but have requested that he be charged with illegally recording a sexual encounter. The Sarasota Police Department stated on Friday that after reviewing a cellphone video made by Christian Ziegler, it was deemed “likely consensual,” making it impossible to charge him with rape. However, the woman involved stated that she did not give consent to be recorded and was unaware that it had taken place.
The police have handed over their findings to Sarasota County State Attorney Ed Brodsky, recommending that Ziegler be charged with video voyeurism, a third-degree felony in Florida that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. Brodsky confirmed that his prosecutors will thoroughly examine the evidence and recommendation. They will also review the decision not to charge Ziegler with rape or sexual assault.
Ziegler’s attorney, Derek Byrd, expressed confidence that his client would be exonerated from the “baseless allegations.” Byrd emphasized that Ziegler has been fully cooperative with law enforcement throughout the investigation. However, Byrd expressed disappointment with the police department’s decision to pass the remaining portion of the case to the State Attorney’s office, expecting that Ziegler will not face any criminal charges.
Ziegler, 40, admitted to having consensual sex with the woman, blaming political opponents for sensationalizing the matter. His wife, Bridget Ziegler, informed detectives that they had engaged in sex once over a year ago. Although Bridget initially planned to participate in the encounter, she backed out, and Ziegler went to the accuser’s apartment alone.
Bridget Ziegler is a well-known conservative figure, co-founder of the Moms for Liberty organization, and an elected member of the Sarasota County school board. She was appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis to the board overseeing Walt Disney World’s land development. This appointment followed DeSantis’ successful effort to dissolve a Disney-controlled board due to their opposition to his bill limiting sex education in schools.
The Florida Republican Party ousted Ziegler earlier this month while police were investigating the rape accusation. They had suspended him and demanded his resignation, citing concerns that the allegations would hinder his ability to lead during a critical election year. Prominent Republican leaders, including DeSantis, Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, also called for Ziegler’s resignation.
The impact of the rape investigation’s conclusion on Ziegler’s future with the state Republican Party remains unclear. Evan Power, the former vice chair of the state GOP, has already been selected as his replacement.
Earlier in the investigation, Sarasota Police Detective Angela Cox obtained search warrants to access Ziegler’s cellphone and Google account, seeking emails, photos, videos, contacts, and other information related to the accusation. According to the affidavits, the woman claimed that Ziegler raped her after she had initially agreed to have sex with him and his wife but changed her mind when his wife couldn’t make it. Security video from the apartment complex captured Ziegler entering and leaving the building.
The woman’s sister confirmed that she received a call from her sister immediately after the incident, reporting that she had been raped. The woman officially reported the rape two days later.
In late October, after Ziegler attempted to contact the woman, the police monitored their phone and text conversations. At one point, Ziegler suggested meeting in person, but the woman responded with fear, stating she was terrified of him.
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