TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Christian Ziegler will not face sexual battery charges, but prosecutors will consider whether to charge him with video voyeurism stemming from a monthslong investigation, according to a statement from the Sarasota Police Department.
The investigation started after an Oct. 2 sexual encounter between Ziegler and an unnamed woman, who later alleged to police in a complaint that Ziegler “raped” her. After interviewing dozens of people and reviewing surveillance footage, the police department in Sarasota, where Ziegler lives, determined it was “unable to develop probable cause” for a charge of sexual battery.
Police did, however, send a probable cause affidavit to prosecutors for video voyeurism, a felony crime, because Ziegler allegedly taped the sexual encounter without the woman’s knowledge, the Sarasota police said.
“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,” according to the statement issued Friday by the Sarasota Police Department.
Ziegler attorney Derek Boyd said that since “day one, we have been confident Mr. Ziegler would be exonerated,” and he said the police “punted” to prosecutors the portion of the case that alleges unlawful videotaping of a sexual act.
“While we are disappointed that the Sarasota Police Department ‘punted’ the decision on the remaining portion of the case of the state attorney’s office, we strongly believe that the state attorney will not prosecute Mr. Ziegler for any crime,” Byrd said in a statement.
The investigation, which was first reported by the Center for Government Accountability, sent shock waves through Florida Republican politics, leading party officials to oust Ziegler as chair and install former Vice Chairman Evan Power as the new state GOP chairman.
Nearly every prominent Florida Republican, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, called on him to resign after news of the investigation broke, but Ziegler refused to do so. Ultimately, the state Republican Party had to hold a series of emergency meetings to reduce his power and then formally remove him as chairman earlier this month.
The investigation has also had fallout for Ziegler’s wife, Bridget, who herself is a well-known presence in conservative circles as a co-founder of Moms for Liberty, a group that works to elect conservative women to school boards.
According to search warrant affidavits obtained by NBC News, the Zieglers together allegedly had a previous sexual encounter with the woman who accused Christian Ziegler of rape. In addition to the legal investigation, the allegations led to backlash against Bridget Ziegler, who critics accused of hypocrisy over her focus on conservative policy issues including passing anti-LGBTQ laws. She helped author legislation championed by DeSantis that banned the talk of sexual orientation or gender identity in classrooms up to third grade.
She was facing no allegations of wrongdoing, but Bridget Ziegler resigned her post as vice president of school boards for the Leadership Institute, a national group that trains conservative activists, and has faced multiple calls for her to resign from the Sarasota County School Board.