Crime

Charges dropped against one Manatee County man in shark-dragging case. He agrees to tell what happened

Charges were dropped against one of three Manatee County men accused of dragging a shark behind a boat at a high rate of speed, according to reports.

Charges against Spencer Heintz, 23, of Palmetto, were dropped Tuesday during a disposition hearing in Hillsborough County before Judge Mark Wolfe, according to WFLA News Channel 8 and ABC Action News. He had previously pleaded not guilty to two counts of aggravated animal cruelty.

Heintz agreed to testify as a witness and there was "no evidence" that he broke the law, leading the state to drop the charges, ABC Action News reported.

Heintz's attorney, Paul Sisco, said his client was on the boat but not involved in the incident, according to WTSP.

“It was nothing Mr. Heintz did at all that contributed in any way to any of the activities that were charged in the case,” Sisco said. “There's four gentlemen in the boat that's involved here. The state attorney's office was willing to and looked at all the facts and looked at the case law and it's clear that there were different roles of the four men that were in the boat.”

Robert Lee Benac, 28, of Bradenton, and Michael Wenzel, 21, of Palmetto, face two counts each of aggravated animal cruelty, a third-degree felony and one count each of illegal method to take a shark, a second-degree misdemeanor. They pleaded not guilty to the charges in January. They are out of jail on bond.

Benac is the son of Manatee County commission Chair Betsy Benac. Wenzel is the son of Manatee County planning section manager Robert Wenzel.

sharkdragging
From left: Robert Lee Benac, Spencer Heintz and Michael Wenzel face felony animal abuse charges in connection to an infamous shark-dragging video and have pleaded not guilty to the charges. Provided photos

Court documents showed attorneys planned several dispositions for Tuesday afternoon that included officials from Mote Marine and the FWC.

The charges stem from a video that went viral on social media last year. The video showed a shark tied to a rope being violently dragged behind a boat at a high rate of speed, sparking outrage and petitions calling for authorities to arrest those responsible.

In the now infamous video, three men shown on the boat are laughing while watching the shark behind them.

Court documents detailed the evidence against the men stemming from the events of June 26, told through videos recorded throughout their time on the boat. Many of the videos were from Snapchat, a social media application, and were time- and date-stamped.

After speaking with three shark experts, investigators concluded there was a “high probability” the shark was alive, according to the affidavit.

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