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Ousted Florida Republican chair cleared of rape allegation, but police seek video voyeurism charge

Police cleared the ousted chair of the Florida Republican Party of rape allegations on Friday, but said they have asked prosecutors to charge him with illegally video recording the sexual encounter he had with a female acquaintance.

The Sarasota Police Department said in a statement that a review of a cellphone video Christian Ziegler made of the Oct. 2 encounter showed that it was “likely consensual,” making it impossible to charge him with rape. However, police said, the woman said she never consented to be video recorded and was unaware it had occurred.

Police said they asked the Sarasota County State Attorney’s Office on Friday to file video voyeurism charges against Ziegler, but that has not yet happened. Prosecutors did not immediately return a phone call Friday seeking comment. Under Florida law, video voyeurism is a third-degree felony that is punishable by five years in prison.

Derek Byrd, Ziegler’s attorney, said in a statement that “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,” Byrd said. “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.”

Ziegler, 40, previously admitted having sex with the woman but insisted it was consensual and blamed political opponents for sensationalizing the matter. Court records show that his wife, Bridget Ziegler, told detectives the three had engaged in sex once more than a year ago. Police said Bridget Ziegler backed out of the planned encounter but her husband went to the accuser’s apartment alone.

Bridget Ziegler is also a prominent conservative who co-founded the Moms for Liberty organization and is also an elected member of the Sarasota County school board. She was also appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to the board that now oversees Walt Disney World’s land development. DeSantis pushed through legislation last year disbanding a Disney-controlled board after the company opposed his bill that limits sex education in schools.

The Republican Party of Florida ousted Ziegler earlier this month as police investigated the rape accusation against him. The party had suspended Ziegler last month and demanded his resignation, saying he couldn’t effectively lead during a critical election year with the allegations swirling around him. DeSantis, U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, and other Republican leaders had also called on Ziegler to step down.

It wasn’t immediately clear what the conclusion of the rape investigation would mean for Ziegler’s future with the Republican Party of Florida. Evan Power, who had been vice chair of the state GOP, has already been chosen to replace Ziegler.

Terry Spencer, The Associated Press