Christian Ziegler, the former chairperson for the Republican Party of Florida who is under criminal investigation, is citing a law that protects victims in a bid to stop the release of more information from his cellphone. But police say Ziegler is not the victim of a crime.
The Sarasota Police Department opened an investigation into Ziegler after a woman accused him in October of sexually assaulting her. Police opted against charging him with sexual assault after they found a video they said appeared to show consensual sexual activity between Ziegler and his accuser. But police forwarded a related investigation into Ziegler for video voyeurism to the State Attorney’s Office for the 12th Judicial Circuit.
No charges have been filed and the case is still under review.
Ziegler’s attorney, Matthew Sarelson, sent an email Jan. 30 to Sarasota City Attorney Robert Fournier saying Ziegler was falsely accused and is therefore a victim whose information should be protected under Marsy’s Law.
“Mr. Ziegler himself has become the victim of a crime, as his accuser has filed a false report to law enforcement authorities — a first-degree misdemeanor under Florida law,” Sarelson wrote.
But the Sarasota Police Department told the Tampa Bay Times in an email on Tuesday that no criminal charges are being pursued against Ziegler’s accuser and the department does not anticipate pursuing charges in the future.
Sarelson and Ziegler did not respond to phone calls and emails requesting comment.
Florida voters in 2018 adopted Marsy’s Law, which gives more rights to crime victims. Among those is the right for crime victims to prevent the disclosure of information that could be used to locate or harass a victim or the victim’s family, or that could disclose confidential details about the victim.
Bobby Block, executive director for the nonprofit First Amendment Foundation, which advocates for government transparency, said that Ziegler doesn’t seem to have legal standing to use Marsy’s Law.
“A lot of the people represented under Marsy’s Law would likely feel hurt to learn this,” Block said.
Sarelson also wrote that the information on Ziegler’s phone is not public record because it involves his private life and has no relation to government business. He also argued that the information is protected from being released because it is part of an active criminal investigation.
Ziegler’s decision to film the sexual encounter with his accuser is at the heart of the video voyeurism investigation.
Video voyeurism is a third-degree felony defined in Florida law as taking video without the consent of someone “who is dressing, undressing, or privately exposing the body, at a place and time when that person has a reasonable expectation of privacy” for the purposes of “amusement, entertainment, sexual arousal, gratification, or profit, or for the purpose of degrading or abusing another person.”
The criminal investigation into Ziegler has attracted national attention in part because of his former leadership role in the Florida Republican Party and because his wife, a prominent conservative education activist, was involved in at least one sexual encounter with his accuser.
Police records from the investigation show that Bridget Ziegler, who co-founded the Moms for Liberty education group and who currently sits on the Sarasota County School Board, had participated in at least one consensual threesome with Ziegler’s accuser. The accuser, whose name is redacted in police records, told police Ziegler had sexually battered her for years and felt she couldn’t say no to him.
The police investigation also uncovered a list on Christian Ziegler’s phone containing the names of several other women. It was titled “THE LIST” in Ziegler’s phone with a subheading labeled “F--k.”
Police also obtained text messages that appeared to show Bridget Ziegler had concerns about having sex with Ziegler’s accuser. She referred to the accuser as “broken” and worried that they were taking advantage of her. She said she preferred “confident empowered people.”
The Republican Party of Florida ousted Ziegler as chairperson last month amid the criminal investigation.