Whiteclay residents, store owners await fate of liquor sales

After 11 hours of testimony at the Capitol Thursday, the Liquor Control Commission must weigh whether four liquor stores in Whiteclay should be allowed to keep their liquor licenses.

The four stores sell the equivalent of nearly 4 million cans of beer per year, largely to the neighboring Pine Ridge Native American Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Whiteclay lies in Sheridan County, and is patrolled by the Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office — comprised of one sheriff and five deputies. Nebraska State Patrol has increased its presence in the town recently as well, as word of the alcoholism and violence that lives in Whiteclay has spread.

Sheridan County Sheriff Terry Robbins was questioned for nearly two hours Thursday.

He said his agency tries to spend at least 20 hours a week patrolling the village of 8 people, with emphasis of establishing a presence after midnight at least five nights a week.

He even started a call log to record when, where, why and how long his deputies spend in Whiteclay — something he only does for this town in particular.

"I started the log because everyone was asking about Whiteclay," He said.

The question is, is the enforcement enough? The answer lies with the Liquor Commission’s ruling.

Several people testified Thursday that they’ve witnessed the four stores sell alcohol to already intoxicated customers. 

All store owners denied ever selling liquor to people at or over their limit. 

Each of their testimony was short. They denied being told why they couldn’t automatically renew their liquor licenses online as they always have, said they kick people loitering on their property off and have noticed an increased police presence lately.

Arrowhead Inn was the only location that’s been recently cited. Owner Jason Schwarting received an administrative citation from the Nebraska State Patrol after a trooper pulled over a car with three minors from the reservation who said they bought alcohol from Arrowhead in October 2016.

Schwarting said an employee sold the boys alcohol. The employee was terminated in February 2017, after he was caught taking money from the Inn. Schwarting said he wasn’t fired sooner because he was looking for a replacement.

The attorney for residents of Whiteclay who want the stores shut down, David Domina, said after Thursday’s hearing that he was pleased with the results.

"The most important thing that emerges from today is this: it is absolutely crystal clear that Whiteclay is a profound embarrassment to Nebraska and it needs to be fixed," Domina said.

The four liquor store owners and their attorney Andrew Snyder all declined to comment.

The two attorneys have to submit their written closing statements to the Liquor Control Commission by next Friday. The commission said it will make its decision by May 2nd.

The liquor stores’ licenses expire April 30th. If they are reinstated, the stores will not be penalized for allowing them to expire before renewal.


UPDATE: 

A brief recess was held on Thursday afternoon. The hearing resumed just before 6:30 p.m.. 

The LCC plans to "forge through" the rest of the hearing.

The commission plans to announce results in a meeting on or before May 2nd.


       Activists who want to close four Nebraska beer stores on the border of a South Dakota Indian reservation say the area doesn’t have sufficient law enforcement to respond to the frequent fights, drunken driving and other crimes in the tiny village.

    Their testimony Thursday came during a hearing before state alcohol regulators who are considering whether to bar the stores from selling alcohol in Whiteclay, Nebraska, a village with nine full-time residents.

    The stores sold the equivalent of 3.5 million cans of alcohol last year on the border of the alcoholism-plagued Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home of the Oglala Lakota Tribe.

    Tatewin Means, the tribe’s attorney general, says the problems in Whiteclay spill over into the reservation, but the tribe’s working relationship with Nebraska law enforcement is "nonexistent."