A Florida boat captain pleaded guilty to animal cruelty in a disturbing shark dragging video and has been sentenced to 10 days in jail after a plea deal on Thursday. Michael Wenzel will begin his jail sentence in Hillsborough County Jail next week and be on probation for 11 months.
In July 2017, the disturbing video showed at least four men smiling as they dragged a shark behind a speed boat off the coast of Egmont Key. The video sparked outrage as it began circulating on social media – one of the laughing men could be heard saying “Look it’s almost dead,” as the shark’s body flailed around in the churning water behind the boat. After the horrific boat dragging ended, one of the men held up the mangled body of the shark for a photo. According to experts, the shark was still alive, and in agony, while being dragged.
Wenzel was charged with animal cruelty by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office. He faced two counts of aggravated animal cruelty and one misdemeanor count of Illegal Method of Take and could have faced 10 years in prison. In a plea deal, he admitted to misdemeanor animal cruelty.
According to Florida Voices for Animals, Wenzel smiled throughout the court proceedings sparking outrage among the people at the court proceedings.
“He apparently thought this was quite funny as he smiled when Hillsborough Circuit Judge Mark Wolfe asked him questions and on his way out of court. “This is a privileged kid,” stated Marie Galbraith. “This is a slap on the wrist. He hasn’t been educated about what he’s done.”
In addition to the jail time, which he will serve only on weekends, Wenzel will perform 100 hours of community service, pay a fine of $2,500 and have his Florida fishing license revoked for five years. Half of the hours for community service will be at an animal rescue organization.
Charges against Spencer Heintz were dropped after he agreed to cooperate with authorities. A third man, Robert Benac, is scheduled to go to trial in June. The fourth man in the video, Nicholas Burns Easterling was not charged after cooperating with authorities also.
(Photos via Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office)
Yesterday: Groomer accused of breaking off a service dog’s tail – details here.
More: Woman arrested – accused of leaving animals to die in flood waters. More here.
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