A Bloomington woman has been charged with felony damage to property after a witness said she painted the words “perv” and “scum” on the sign of lion hunter Walter Palmer’s Bloomington dental practice.
Kimberly Ann Socha, 41, was arrested Monday and charged Tuesday, and was being held in the Hennepin County jail on $5,000 bail. Two sisters from Florida were also arrested and taken to jail, but no charges have been filed, said Deputy Police Chief Mike Hartley.
The women appear to be the first U.S. protesters arrested since international outrage erupted in late July over the Palmer’s killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe.
According to the criminal complaint, a witness outside River Bluff Dental contacted police about 7:30 a.m. Monday to say he had just watched a woman spray-paint the office sign. The man later identified Socha as the culprit, and he pointed to the other two women saying they “held up their protest poster boards in a manner to try to hide Socha’s vandalism,” the complaint said.
The Florida women said they weren’t part of the spray-painting, according to the complaint.
Authorities with a search warrant found a bag with multiple cans of spray paint in Socha’s car. There were also multiple posters “and a fake animal trap with two fake furs with blood on them,” the complaint said.
Palmer advised police that the sign cost more than $1,600 and would have to be replaced, according to the complaint.
Animal welfare activists and concerned citizens have routinely protested and gathered outside Palmer’s River Bluff Dental practice in Bloomington, and they were there to greet the big-game hunter when police and security guards escorted him back to work Sept. 8.
In early August, vandals in Florida spray-painted “lion killer” across the garage door of Palmer’s vacation home in Marco Island, and tossed pigs feet in the driveway.
Dallas Rising, executive director of the Animal Rights Coalition, a Minneapolis group, said she knows Socha but that she is not with her organization. Rising called the felony charge against Socha “overkill.”
Rising said she wasn’t surprised, however, due to what she described as a national trend toward authorities being aggressive with charges against animal welfare activists. The felony charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Speaking out earlier this month about the hunt, Palmer told reporters for the Star Tribune and the Associated Press that with hindsight he would have done things differently.
“Obviously, if I’d have known this lion had a name and was that important to the country, or a study, obviously, I wouldn’t have taken it,” Palmer said.