Bridgeville, Oakdale men among 3 charged with animal cruelty charges during ‘Manhunt’ shoot
Three men who were hired as animal trainers for the filming of a scene of the television series “Manhunt: Lone Wolf” have been charged with animal cruelty for allegedly putting cayenne pepper on dogs’ noses.
Antonio A. Spencer, 32, of Bridgeville and Ed Wiernik, 59, of Oakdale each face two misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty. Phillip Hoelcher, 73, of Umatilla, Fla., faces four misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty. All charges were filed by an Animal Friends police officer Aug. 29 in connection with a July 23 incident.
Charges were mailed to each trainer. They are scheduled to appear before District Judge Jeffrey Herbst for a preliminary hearing in October.
Samir Sarna, an attorney representing Spencer, declined to comment. Court records did not list legal representation for Wiernik and Hoelcher.
According to court papers, Spencer subcontracted Wiernik and Hoelcher as dog trainers for the filming of a scene for the American true-crime miniseries near Rosecrest Drive in Monroeville. Spencer and Wiernik “put (cayenne pepper) into the dogs’ noses several times,” and Hoelcher provided them with it, police said.
A member of the crew notified Animal Friends about the incident and provided videos that allegedly showed the trainers using cayenne pepper on the dogs. The crew member said the use of cayenne pepper on dogs is not common practice.
The police officer who filed the complaint said he viewed an official video provided by Lionsgate, parent production company of “Manhunt.”
Lionsgate provided a statement via email.
“We have an excellent track record and are deeply committed to protecting the animals on our TV and film sets, and we take any allegations of animal cruelty very seriously. We are cooperating fully with local law enforcement on this matter.”
A spokesperson declined to provide a copy of the video because it is part of an ongoing police investigation.
The crew member and Animal Friends investigators did not respond to a request for comment.
Spencer was an independent contractor of Wild World of Animals, which was hired by Manhunt Productions Inc. to be on set with the animals, according to court papers.
Grant Kemmerer, owner of Wild World of Animals, said he was “extremely surprised” by the charges brought against Spencer, whom he’s used for other productions that require dog trainers.
“He’s extremely professional,” Kemmerer said. “I’ve seen him with dogs. … I’ve never seen anything that would be cause for concern.”
Kemmerer said he will not use Spencer for jobs until the case is resolved.
In the complaint, the Animal Friends police officer said he spoke with the trainers, who each denied using cayenne pepper on the dogs.
Hoelcher allegedly told police “cayenne pepper is completely safe. You could completely submerge yourself in cayenne pepper and nothing would happen.”
However, the video tells a different story, according to police.
The scene being filmed took place in a wooded area. A man, later identified as Hoelcher, walked on and off the set with a bottle of cayenne pepper and poured it into Wiernik’s and Spencer’s palm, according to the complaint.
“The videos show both Wiernik and Spencer taking the cayenne pepper into their hand and … put it into the dogs’ nose several times,” said the criminal complaint.
The complaint continued: “The first time when Wiernik put the cayenne pepper into his dog’s nose, the dog instantly reacted in a negative manner. Within two seconds the dog shook his head and sneezed a couple times, started lip licking over his nose.”
Hoelcher provided cayenne pepper to Wiernik and Spencer many more times, according to the criminal complaint.
“The reactions were similar with the dogs in the videos both ending with the dogs rubbing their heads in the dirt trying to fight off the foreign substance,” said the complaint.
The criminal complaint included comments from an Animal Friends veterinarian, Dr. Lindsey Swanson. She said putting cayenne pepper into a dog’s airway could cause “medical emergencies,” including irritation, burning of the tissues and respiratory distress or arrest, and it could even lead to death.
The police officer called the “Manhunt” production office coordinator, David Cole, who allegedly told police the incident was the result of miscommunication.
Cole told police the scene needed to show a dog’s reaction after eating a cayenne pepper. According to the complaint, Cole said it is “normal industry standard” to use a mixture of apple cider vinegar, broccoli and lemon juice to cause a reaction for filming purposes.
The mixture is “painted on the noses of the dogs with a finger” to get the dogs to react, Cole told police.
Police talked to another crew member who was on the set of the day of the alleged incident, who said he was “concerned about the talk of cayenne pepper.” The crew member said he asked Hoelcher if he was using real cayenne pepper, to which Hoelcher allegedly replied “Yeah, we are.”
“Manhunt” opened a production office in Pittsburgh in March and has been filming the series’ second season at locations in Penn Hills, Monroeville and Pittsburgh since June. Filming is expected to last through November.
The “Manhunt” series aired on Discovery Channel in the summer of 2017 and the first season, “Manhunt: Unabomber,” was the true story of Ted Kaczynski, who between 1978 and 1995 killed three people and injured 23.
Deadline.com reported last year that season two will focus on exonerated security guard Richard Jewell, who was first praised for his quick action and then accused of a bombing at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, [email protected] or via Twitter .