Pet store owner’s shame campaign on tortoise thieves

Vera H-C Chan

Clinton, Wash., is a small town—population 928. But when a pet store owner uncovered tortoise thieves in his midst, he didn't just put up a flier. Instead, James Dunn went on an online crusade to name and shame the shoplifters for the villagers—and world—to see.

The alleged caper took place on August 28, when a couple walked into the family-owned Critters & Co. Pet Center. Using the classic divide-and-snatch technique, the man distracted a store clerk by asking about feeder fish, while the woman allegedly scooped up three baby tortoises. With $300 worth of land-dwelling reptiles stowed in her purse, the alleged thief nonchalantly walked out the store—and past security cameras, which captured the brazen theft.

The crime went beyond shoplifting: The betrayed owners recognized the couple as regular customers. Police were notified, but Dunn went a step further, reports local station KING5: He posted the surveillance tape to Facebook and YouTube. The plea to "help catch these low-lifes [sic]" elicited outrage ("Hey scumbags, the entire South end of the Island is becomming [sic] aware of your theiving [sic] way of life," wrote WhidbeyVoiceofDoom in YouTube comments), and a brief ethics tussle when someone posted—then removed—the contact information of the accused.

The campaign also prompted calls to the police demanding justice over the tortoise-nappers. In the end, the theft of three tortoises doesn't amount to a hill of beans. According to the South Whidbey Record, police mailed citations to Tori Johnson and Scott Nielsen with charges of third-degree theft—the maximum penalty for stealing items under $750. A failure to appear in court on Sept. 19 could result in arrests, which is the extent of what the law can do over a misdemeanor, no matter if the victims are awfully cute.

Island County Sheriff Mark Brown told KING5 the online campaign was fine as long as it didn't interfere in the cause of justice. He said, "I just want them to get a fair trial so we can convict them." The station was unable to get comments from the couple.

In the meantime, the tortoises still remain at large. Below, KING5's take on the take.