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Siesta Key Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017 3 years ago

Top Story - June: ‘Siesta Key’ premiere event canceled after outrage over animal cruelty allegations

Catch up on the top news items of 2017 with the Observer's Year in Review.

The red-carpet event for the premiere of “Siesta Key” was canceled July 30 after nearly a week of outcry online over what critics called animal cruelty by friends of some cast members.

Those who purchased tickets online to the premiere event, previously scheduled for July 31, received an email from Beth Kompothecras, the event organizer, mother of a cast member and wife of 1-800-ASK-GARY founder Gary Kompothecras.

“Due to unanticipated events, we have decided to cancel the private screening of “Siesta Key,” the email stated. All ticket holders were promised a refund.

A protest planned for the premiere was subsequently canceled. 

When asked for comment, Gary Kompothecras said he didn’t want to speak about the reasons behind the cancellation.

“We’re under a media lockdown right now,” Kompothecras told the Observer shortly after the incident. “We’re going to wait until after the show airs. Let these people see everything, and then we’ll comment.”

Animal cruelty allegations

The event cancellation comes after days of commenters online decrying the show for cast members’ potential connections to young men seen in at least one controversial video.

A video surfaced a week before the premier of at least four young men dragging a shark behind a speeding boat. The shark was being beaten by the waves; it was unclear if it was alive or dead.

What ensued was a hunt for the men’s identities. As the Florida Wildlife Commission began an investigation, members of the public searched online for their own answers about the identities of the men, which led to more and more images and videos showcasing potential animal cruelty being posted publicly on personal social media accounts and in the comments of news stories.

Some of the images and videos included young men shooting fish with guns, and a young man holding what appeared to be a dead dog.

In December, three men were arrested and charged with animal cruelty. The fourth man in the video provided information and cooperated with investigators and is not being charged in this case, authorities said.

On social media it came to light that Alex Kompothecras, the proclaimed “King of Siesta Key” and a star of the new reality show, is friends with at least one person in the shark-dragging video, though he is not shown himself.

In a now-deleted Instagram comment on a post promoting the premiere of “Siesta Key,” Alex Kompothecras acknowledged his relationship with an individual in the shark-dragging video but distanced himself from the incident. He was not part of the investigation, police said.

“I had absolutely nothing to do with the shark video," Kompothecras posted in July. "Yes he's a friend of mine, but I don't agree with what he did.”

Several of the posts linking Alex Kompothecras and the people in the shark-dragging video — most of which were on Instagram accounts — were also deleted.

Commenters have also shared several screenshots of posts that have since been deleted from Alex Kompothecras’ Instagram account, some of which showed a hand pointing a gun at a fish in water, people drinking from beer cans in fishes’ mouths, and someone swimming toward a whale with “#teammurdermurder” written in the caption.

Cast members received criticism from Sarasota and Siesta Key residents before the shark dragging video came to light.

Protests launch

Following this, a Facebook event titled “Siesta Key Animal Abuse Protest!!!” was created. In the description, organizers asked that CineBistro cancel the event, or protesters would be there to greet the cast and producers on the red carpet.

“Unfortunately, over the past few days the connection between the production and the Siesta Key show and the horrific videos and photos of animal abuse have come to light,” the event description said. “The public outrage and cry for justice must be heard!”

Jordan Fuchs is a USF Sarasota-Manatee student and one of the three organizers of the protest. He grew up in the area and told the Observer in July he started the protest because he was disgusted by the images he saw online and didn't want to support a show with local characters who glorify such behavior.

He says the group achieved its goal with the cancellation of red-carpet premiere, which is why there was no protest.

Another Facebook group, Boycott Siesta Key MTV, also emerged. It had almost 6,000 likes.

Administrators of the group said in a post that their aim was to create a space where concerned residents can voice their thoughts, but they would not organize any protests.

FWC response

The FWC investigated after it was alerted to the shark-dragging video on July 24. As the story gained traction and people began sending in more images and information, officials were able to identify the people in the video by July 26, though they didn't immediately release their names.

In a statement, the FWC called the video “disheartening and disturbing,” but said it was too soon to speculate on what, if any violations had taken place. 

Gov. Rick Scott wrote a letter about the video to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission Chair Brian Yablonski, calling the video “incredibly disturbing.”

Scott went on to say he encourages the FWC to “review Florida’s fishing regulations and state statutes to ensure such inhumane acts are strictly prohibited.”

The show goes on

The show's first episode still aired at 10 p.m. July 31 on MTV.

Since the announcement of the show in May, Siesta Key residents expressed concern about the amount of attention, and the type of attention, a reality show could bring to the already-popular destination.

On the other side of the argument, some said the show would bring a needed new perspective to the Key as well as an economic boost. Others said the show wouldn’t have much of an impact at all on the Key.

The last result, as least as of now, appeared to be the most accurate prediction. Visit Sarasota President Virginia Haley said there was no discernible spike in tourism while anecdotal reports from residents and business owners likewise saw little noticeable increase.

The show will return with a second run of episodes in winter 2018.

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