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Florida police clear ousted GOP chair of rape but seek charges of video voyeurism

Florida police clear ousted GOP chair of rape but seek charges of video voyeurism

Police in Florida say they have asked prosecutors to charge former Republican Party chair Christian Ziegler with video voyeurism after determining that a sexual encounter he had with a female acquaintance was “likely consensual”.

The Sarasota Police Department said in a statement to The Independent that Mr Ziegler, 40, had been cleared of rape after a review of cellphone footage of the 2 October encounter, but that they would seek charges that he illegally recorded the sex act.

Video voyeurism is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison in Florida.

Mr Ziegler, a former close ally of Governor Ron DeSantis, was accused of committing sexual battery by a woman he and wife Bridget Ziegler, a co-founder of Moms for Liberty, had been sexually involved with.

The woman told police that on the day of the incident she had arranged to have a three-way liaison with the married couple, but that Mr Ziegler had turned up to her apartment alone and allegedly forced himself on her.

In their statement, Sarasota police said that after a “lengthy investigation” they were unable to find probable cause to charge Mr Ziegler with sexual battery.

Christian Ziegler, 40, has been cleared of sexual battery but could still face charges of illegally recording a sexual encounter (Associated Press)
Christian Ziegler, 40, has been cleared of sexual battery but could still face charges of illegally recording a sexual encounter (Associated Press)

When detectives showed the accuser a video recording of the sexual act, she informed them that she was unaware it had been taken and had not consented to be filmed, police said.

Police have sent the evidence to the State Attorney’s Office for further review.

Sarasota County School Board member Bridget Ziegler listens to public comments in December 2023, after her fellow school board members approved a resolution calling on her to resign (AP)
Sarasota County School Board member Bridget Ziegler listens to public comments in December 2023, after her fellow school board members approved a resolution calling on her to resign (AP)

Mr Ziegler’s attorney Derek Byrd told The Independent in a statement that he “strongly believed” his client would be cleared of allegations he had illegally recorded the encounter.

He said Mr Ziegler had cooperated fully with law enforcement throughout the investigation, and had been confident “from day one” that his client would be cleared of the sexual battery claims.

“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.”

The allegations came to light in early December after the accuser filed a police complaint of rape against Mr Ziegler, according to a police report provided to The Independent.

The woman told detectives that she had known Mr Ziegler for 20 years, and agreed to have sex with him and his wife on 2 October but backed out after being told that Ms Ziegler “couldn’t make it.”

She said she left her house to find Mr Ziegler standing outside, and that he allegedly pushed her inside and raped her, according to court documents.

In early January, police said they had expanded the investigation to include the “crime of video voyeurism.”

Mr Ziegler was stripped of his power, censured and had his salary reduced to $1 by the party before being formally removed as GOP chair on 8 January (Orlando Sentinel)
Mr Ziegler was stripped of his power, censured and had his salary reduced to $1 by the party before being formally removed as GOP chair on 8 January (Orlando Sentinel)

Mr Ziegler was ousted as chair of the Florida GOP during a meeting in Tallahassee on 8 January, having already been stripped of his power, censured and had his salary reduced to $1 by the party.

Mr DeSantis, Florida senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, and Congressman Matt Gaetz had called on Mr Ziegler to step down.

Ms Ziegler is a prominent conservative who helped establish the anti-LGBT+ group Moms for Liberty.

She is also an elected Sarasota County School Board member and was appointed by Mr DeSantis to the board that oversees Walt Disney World’s land development.

The school board passed a resolution calling for her resignation in December, but she has so far resisted calls to quit.

Court documents show that Ms Ziegler told investigators she and her husband had a sexual encounter with the accuser more than a year before the 2 October incident.

Sarasota Police said they had conducted nearly one dozen interviews, issued numerous subpoenas, reviewed hours of surveillance footage, and searched through a substantial number of images and videos on cell phones and their respective cloud data backups as part of their investigation.