By Bob Norman
In an email sent to top Republican officials in Florida, embattled state GOP chairman Christian Ziegler characterizes himself as the victim of an ongoing rape investigation being conducted by the Sarasota Police Department.
The 40-year-old Ziegler calls it an “attack,” not on the victim in the case, but himself. He claims he’s being “targeted,” and notes that “anyone” can file a rape complaint. Ziegler promises to later reveal information about the “motive” and who was behind his ordeal.
“We have a country to save and I am not going to let false allegations of a crime put that mission on the bench as I wait for this process to wrap up,” wrote Ziegler. “Thank you to all who have reached out in support.”
But now with the release of the sworn police affidavit, we’re past the “allegation” phase and have actual facts. And those facts alone are damning primarily to Ziegler, but also to his wife Bridget Ziegler, a Sarasota School Board member and cofounder of the right-wing, book-banning group Moms for Liberty.
Most importantly those facts are heartbreaking for the victim in the case, the “anyone” whom Ziegler claims is targeting him. A friend in a 911 call described her as someone falling deeper and deeper into drug addiction and terrified of leaving her apartment after Ziegler showed up there, and bent her over a piece of furniture, while recording her on his cell phone.
Ziegler admitted he had sex with the woman and recorded it. And afterward he did something in recorded phone calls with the woman that he didn’t mention in his email to Republican officials: He apologized to the woman and offered to help her, financially and otherwise.
He also told her Bridget Ziegler would be “in next time” for another threesome.
Ziegler told police his encounter with the woman was consensual, but police believed they had “sufficient grounds” that wasn’t the case, and the judge followed suit, finding probable cause that Ziegler committed the crime of sexually battery against the woman while she was mentally incapacitated, a first-degree felony that could send him to prison for 30 years if he’s charged and convicted.
So what are the facts? According to the sworn police affidavit:
On Oct. 2, a Wednesday, Ziegler began messaging the woman at 7:29 a.m. trying to convince her to have a threesome with him and his wife. Ziegler had known the woman for 20 years and he and Bridget had engaged in a threesome with her more than a year before, which Bridget told police occurred at the couple’s home.
In another message that morning, Christian, who preferred communicating on Instagram’s “Vanishing Mode” that automatically erases messages, told her that he and Bridget were driving around and asked for her address so they could come over and have sex.
The response from the woman was delayed, but she “finally” agreed. At 2:12 p.m., Ziegler informed her Bridget now wasn’t able to attend to make it a threesome.
“Prob just me this time now,” he messaged the woman. “[Bridget was] ready at 1:30.”
Twelve minutes later the woman backed out of the meeting.
“Sorry, I was mostly in for [Bridget],” she messaged him.
But that didn’t stop Ziegler. At 2:29 p.m., just five minutes after being told the tryst was off, surveillance video caught him pulling up to the woman’s apartment in his gray Ford truck. Then he’s seen in dark shorts and a red shirt walking into the apartment complex.
According to the woman, Ziegler walked in her door as she was taking her dog out for a walk.
“The victim opened her apartment door to walk her dog and Christian was standing outside in the hallway,” a police detective wrote in the affidavit. “Christian entered the apartment, bent the victim over the ‘bar stool’ and vaginally penetrated her with his penis. The victim advised Christian did not wear a condom, and he stated, “‘I’m leaving the same way I came in.’”
Police confirmed that the woman called her sister and told her she had been raped (without naming Ziegler). Her sister immediately came to her apartment to find her emotionally distraught. The woman didn’t report the case to the police until two days later, when police arrived at her home after a concerned friend and co-worker called 911.
The caller told the dispatcher that the woman hadn’t been at work for the last two days, was slurring her words, and was telling her that she didn’t think she could go on.
“She won’t answer anyone else at work except for me but she told me she was raped yesterday and that she’s scared to leave her house,” said the caller. “… She’s saying she’s scared, that the person that raped her came to her house, that she’s scared to leave.”
The police arrived and the woman was taken to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, where a rape kit was completed. The investigation began and on Oct. 27, Ziegler independently contacted the woman. Again they began messaging each other, only this time with police monitoring and controlling the communications. The affidavit recounted the conversation:
Woman: “I’m not okay with what happened the other day between us.”
Ziegler: “Oh. That’s not good. You are my friend. Known ya for like twenty years now; Lol.”
Woman: “Yeah I know, but that was not cool and you didn’t bring her and did that to me.”
Ziegler: “[Bridget] was in. Then couldn’t because no reponse. She said in next time. But I understand. Your my friend I actually like you as a person, so sorry you got upset, but can leave you alone if you prefer.”
Ziegler then changed the subject to a recent haircut he’d gotten before she steered the conversation back to the alleged rape.
Woman: “l don’t know if I can do that anymore after what you did to me last time it freaked me out.”
Ziegler: “Ok. Well, sorry. Not the intention. I want you to be happy and not have drama. You have dealt with enough BS.”
He again brought up the haircut.
Woman: “I have not been able to work since you came over.”
Ziegler: “I am pretty loyal to my friends. Tried to call. Hard to text. How can l help?”
Woman: “I really can’t even talk to you right now … you caused this. You can’t help me.”
Police noted Ziegler kept calling the woman his friend “in an effort to minimize the situation,” asked how he could help, and repeatedly tried to change the subject.
Woman: “I’d prefer you to tell me why you think what you did was okay?
Ziegler: “Where r u? Wanna meet and chat? Worried about you. You are my friend.”
Woman: “Hell no not after what you did to me. Do you not understand I am terrified of you?”
Ziegler later began calling the woman and investigators recorded three phone conversations. Police characterized the first call this way:
“The victim told Christian he hurt her when he came over. Christian said he did not think that was the case and if she was upset, he did not need her upset. Christian tried to change the subject, and the victim asked why he did that. Christian said he was not trying to start any issues, and she knows who he is. Christian asked the victim if she wanted him to leave her alone. The victim said she needed him to know that he hurt her. Christian responded by saying he would leave her alone.”
In the second phone call, the woman rang Ziegler and asked why he “forced her to have sex with him when she never wanted to.” Ziegler said he didn’t do that and said he had to go “because some guy was giving him a hard time.”
In the third phone call, Ziegler called the woman and asked her “what she was going through.” She told him outright that he sexually assaulted her.
“Those are big words, please don’t, no I didn’t,” Ziegler responded. “You invited me in, that’s it. I did not at all, and I never want you to feel that way.”
He then reiterated he was her friend and asked her what she needed, whether it be financial help or anything else. When Ziegler asked her what the issue was, she told him “he was the issue.” Again Ziegler apologized, told her he didn’t “need any drama,” and called her a “good person.”
When the woman asked him to help her understand why he came over that day, he said he thought she wanted him to come over. She pointed out that she had told him not to come over, which is backed up by her message prior to his arrival, but Ziegler denied it.
“The victim asked Christian to acknowledge that he has been using her all these years,” police wrote in the affidavit. “Christian said he was not going to acknowledge that, and he asked her if she was recording him. Christian said the victim was trying to get him on record saying something. Christian once again asked the victim what he coµld do to help her. The victim told Christian to leave her alone. End of call.”
Police interviewed Bridget Ziegler on Nov. 1, when she confirmed that she and her husband had previously engaged in a “sexual encounter” with the woman. The following day, Ziegler was interviewed by police with his attorney present. He told them the encounter with the woman was consensual and said he’d taken a video of it.
“Christian said he initially deleted the video, but since the allegation, he uploaded the video to his Google Drive. Which we have not been able to locate upon a digital extraction,” police wrote in the affidavit.
Locating that video was one reason for the police search of Ziegler’s Google Drive, his Gmail, and his iPhone. The police investigation continues.
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. He can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at 954-632-4343.ziegler-affidavit