Sarasota Police have forwarded their investigation of Christian Ziegler to prosecutors. Investigators delivered a probable cause affidavit to charge Ziegler with video voyeurism, but not rape.
Police in October launched an investigation of the now-former Republican Party of Florida Chair after a woman accused him of rape in a Sarasota apartment. Over the course of a two-month investigation, Ziegler provided police with a video he took of an Oct. 2 sexual encounter with the woman.
Investigators said after reviewing the two-and-a-half-minute video, it showed the encounter was “likely consensual,” preventing police from charging Ziegler with sexual battery.
Ziegler attorney Derek Byrd issued a lengthy statement saying the findings vindicated the embattled political figure.
“It has been difficult to stay quiet knowing Mr. Zeigler was innocent, but we did so in order for law enforcement to conduct its due diligence,” Byrd said.
“Since Day 1, we have been confident Mr. Ziegler would be exonerated from these baseless allegations. He has been completely honest, forthright, and has been fully cooperative with law enforcement at every stage of this investigation. At the beginning of the investigation, we asked and warned the public to withhold judgment of criminal wrongdoing until a thorough investigation of the facts was complete. Sadly, many people and media outlets refused to give Mr. Ziegler that courtesy. That was unfair and unfortunate and has caused irreparable harm to Mr. Ziegler’s reputation, his personal life, professional life and his family.”
But police said interviews with the accuser confirmed she was unaware Ziegler recorded the encounter.
“After conducting an additional follow-up interview with the victim and after showing the victim the video recording of the sex act, the victim advised Sarasota Police detectives that she was unaware and did not consent to being video recorded,” a release said.
Based on that, police on Friday prepared a probable cause affidavit to charge Ziegler with a single count of video voyeurism. Earlier this month, a judge signed off on a search warrant to obtain any video Ziegler shared over his Instagram account.
The decision was left to prosecutors whether to arrest or pursue charges against Ziegler. The State Attorney’s Office will now review all material. Notably, prosecutors still have the ability to pursue a rape charge, but that’s unlikely without police finding probable cause.
State Attorney Ed Brodsky said he could not comment at length on next steps.
“We only received the case this afternoon,” he said. “What I will say is we are going to maintain the integrity of our review of the Sarasota Police Department’s investigative findings.”
The legal developments mark a major step forward in a scandal that ended Ziegler’s leadership of the Republican Party of Florida less than a year into his term, and has also drawn in the political career of his wife, Sarasota County School Board member Bridget Ziegler.
Over the course of the investigation, court documents show the woman and the Zieglers had planned a three-way sexual encounter the day of the incident. But Christian Ziegler informed her ahead of arriving that Bridget Ziegler would not attend. The woman told him not to come over. “Sorry I was mostly in for her,” she wrote in a digital message.
Bridget Ziegler, a co-founder of Moms for Liberty, admitted to police the couple engaged in a three-way sex encounter with the woman more than a year prior.
Christian Ziegler showed up five minutes later anyway. The woman told police he intercepted her at the door and forced her to have sex over a barstool. Surveillance video at the apartment later showed her opening the door. The woman also told police she had been drinking before the incident.
She later told her sister she had been raped, which led to a rape kit being taken at the hospital and the encounter being reported to police on Oct. 4.
Byrd voiced confidence the legal system will ultimately determine Ziegler committed no crime.
“While we are disappointed that the Sarasota Police Department ‘punted’ the decision on the remaining portion of the case to the State Attorney’s Office, we strongly believe that the State Attorney will not prosecute Mr. Ziegler for any crime,” Byrd said.
“As we did with the Sarasota Police Department, we will allow the State to conduct its investigation with full cooperation from Mr. Ziegler. We will also not comment on the ongoing investigation until it is completed.”