Disclaimer: This story contains explicit sexual content and details involving an alleged sexual assault.
Sarasota police have recovered a cell phone video taken by Florida GOP chairman Christian Ziegler of his sexual encounter with a woman who has alleged he raped her, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the criminal investigation.
That video, in addition to security surveillance video from the apartment complex where the woman lives, provided police investigators with graphic evidence of the October 2 sexual encounter between the two, which Ziegler has told police was consensual.
The apartment’s surveillance video, according to the sources, shows Ziegler knocking on the woman’s door and walking inside, which appears to contradict the woman’s claim to police that he walked into her apartment after she opened the door to walk her dog.
According to a police search warrant affidavit, Ziegler arrived alone at the apartment shortly after the woman backed out of a proposed tryst involving Ziegler and his wife, Bridget Ziegler, a Sarasota school board member and cofounder of Moms for Liberty. “Sorry I was in mostly for her,” she messaged Ziegler.
He arrived at her apartment five minutes after receiving that message, according to the affidavit. Inside the apartment, Ziegler made a cell phone video of the sex act while she was bent over a piece of furniture in the bedroom, according to sources.
The video of the sex act is brief in duration and the victim can be heard telling Ziegler to climax in her mouth rather than on her new shirt, the sources said.
Ziegler and the woman can then be seen on surveillance video exiting the apartment together. While Ziegler leaves the apartment complex out a side door to his truck, the woman can be seen walking across the street to get food before returning to her apartment.
Bridget Ziegler told police that she and her husband had a previous three-way sexual encounter with the woman more than a year ago, according to the affidavit.
Defense attorney Adriana Alcalde, a former Florida sex crimes prosecutor who now represents victims in those cases, said the video evidence, if accurately described by the Florida Trident’s sources, could amount to an insurmountable obstacle to a successful verdict in the case.
“We would need to know more, but if the video shows even what appears to be consensual sex it will be very difficult to get past [for police and prosecutors],” said Alcalde, who practices in Florida and New York. “I think it could really damage the possibility of a conviction in a criminal case.”
The rape allegation has ignited a massive political firestorm around the couple, who have both espoused conservative “family values” in their political campaigns and taken stances viewed as anti-LGBTQ. Bridget Ziegler worked with Gov. Ron DeSantis in drafting the controversial Florida Parental Rights In Education Act, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay Act,” which prohibits discussion or instruction involving gender identity or sexual orientation in classrooms across the state.
DeSantis, who has publicly praised Bridget Ziegler and invited her to the bill-signing, has called for Christian Ziegler’s resignation in light of the police investigation, as have numerous other Florida Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, who initially appointed Bridget Ziegler to the Sarasota school board in 2014.
Bridget Ziegler has resigned her job at the conservative Leadership Institute, where she worked to train conservatives in becoming school board activists. Fellow Sarasota County School Board members Tom Edwards, the lone Democrat on the board, and Karen Rose, a past Ziegler ally, have both called for her resignation from the board as well.
Christian Ziegler wrote in an email to state GOP officials that his family is “rock solid” and his wife is “behind me 150 percent” as the police investigation continues.
It was at 7:29 a.m. on October 2, a Wednesday, that Christian initially began contacting the woman about having a threesome with him and Bridget, at one point telling the woman the couple was in their vehicle and asking for her address so they could come over, according to the police affidavit.
The woman responded sometime around 2 p.m., prompting Christian to inform her that Bridget was “ready” at 1:30 p.m. but could no longer make it. That’s when the woman sent a message calling it off due to Bridget’s absence, according to the affidavit.
The woman did not initially report the incident to police. It came to light two days later, on October 4, after a friend and coworker called 911 to ask for a wellness check after the woman had failed to show up at work. The friend said the woman told her that she had been raped and she was afraid to leave her house, according to the 911 call. The caller also told the dispatcher that the woman had been falling deeper into drug addiction in recent weeks.
When police arrived they took the woman to the hospital where a rape kit was completed. The police investigation included controlled messages and calls between the woman and Christian in which he apologized and offered her assistance, but denied raping her. During one of those calls Christian tells her that he and Bridget were still interested in a threesome.
“I’m not okay with what happened the other day between us,” the woman told Christian in one message.
“Oh. That’s not good,” responded Ziegler. “You are my friend. Known ya for like twenty years now; Lol.”
“Yeah I know, but that was not cool and you didn’t bring her and did that to me,” she wrote.
“[Bridget] was in. Then couldn’t because no response,” Ziegler replied. “She said in next time. But I understand. Your [sic] my friend I actually like you as a person, so sorry you got upset, but can leave you alone if you prefer.”
He repeatedly asked her what he could do to assist her, at one point bringing up financial assistance, according to the affidavit. When the woman outright accused him of sexually assaulting her in a subsequent police-recorded phone call, Ziegler denied the allegation, telling her she invited him into her apartment.
Michael Barfield, lead investigator for the Florida Center for Government Accountability, contributed to this report.
About the Author: Bob Norman is an award-winning investigative reporter who serves as Editor-in-Chief of The Florida Trident and journalism program director for the Florida Center for Government Accountability.