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Police Clear Ziegler of Rape, But Send Voyeurism Felony Case To Prosecutors

[UPDATE: The Sarasota Police Department issued a press release that confirms this story. Information from the release has been added below] 

The Sarasota Police Department has closed the rape investigation of Christian Ziegler with no charges filed, but are forwarding a related case involving video voyeurism to the State Attorney’s Office for review, according to sources with direct knowledge of the investigation and confirmed by a police news release. 

“As a result of the lengthy investigation, Sarasota Police detectives found video evidence that on October 2nd, 2023, a sexual encounter occurred between the victim and Christian Ziegler,” police wrote in the release. “Ziegler recorded the encounter on his cell phone. The video showed that the encounter was likely consensual. Therefore, detectives were unable to develop probable cause to charge Ziegler with Sexual Battery.”

The department did, however, find probable cause for a charge of video voyeurism, according the release, and sent the case to the State Attorney’s Office for review. From the release: “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. On January 19th, 2024, the investigators prepared a probable cause affidavit for the felony crime of Video Voyeurism against Christian Ziegler. This affidavit was subsequently sent to the State Attorney’s Office for further review.”

Ziegler’s attorney, Derek Byrd, issued a statement on Ziegler’s behalf regarding the decisions.

“Since day one, 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,” wrote Byrd, later adding, “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.”

The release details Ziegler has been under criminal investigation since early October when a Sarasota woman alleged he sexually assaulted her in her apartment after she had earlier canceled a planned three-way sexual encounter with Ziegler and his wife, Bridget Ziegler, a Sarasota County School Board member and cofounder of the conservative group Moms for Liberty.

Christian and Bridget Ziegler at Mar-a-Lago.

According to police, Christian Ziegler told investigators sex with the woman was consensual and pointed them to a video he made of the encounter as evidence. The woman denied it was consensual and said she had no idea he had recorded the act, which prompted the video voyeurism investigation. In Florida, videotaping a sexual encounter without consent is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. 

The Florida Trident previously reported that the video taken by Ziegler was inconsistent with some portions of the victim’s account of the incident, which may have contributed to the police department’s decision not to file a rape charge. 

Ziegler’s attorney, Derek Byrd, told police the alleged victim sent Ziegler an Instagram message in “vanishing mode” after the encounter asking if he had shown the video to his wife and if she liked it. The woman denied sending the message. Police executed a search warrant on Ziegler’s Instagram account in search of the message. Sources told the Trident it has not been recovered.

The State Attorney’s Office will determine whether to charge Ziegler in the voyeurism case. Representatives of the office had no comment when contacted by the Trident

Both Christian and Bridget Ziegler admitted they had a previous three-way sexual encounter with the victim more than a year before the rape allegation was made.

The Zieglers were a major Florida power couple and both played key roles in the state’s culture war politics. Bridget Ziegler spearheaded the passing of several anti-LGBTQ measures in Sarasota schools and worked with close ally Gov. Ron DeSantis to help craft the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act, which is better known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. 

While Christian Ziegler has been ousted as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, Bridget Ziegler has resisted intense pressure – from the public and her elected colleagues – to resign her school board seat. She also remains as a DeSantis appointee on the Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board that oversees Disney. 

This is a developing story and may be updated with additional information.

About the Author: Michael Barfield focuses on the enforcement of open government laws. He serves as FLCGA’s lead investigator and director of public records. He regularly assists journalists across the country with collecting information and publishing news reports obtained from public records and other sources. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.