LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Four Nebraska beer stores on the border of a South Dakota Indian reservation should close because the area doesn't have sufficient law enforcement to respond to the frequent fights, drunken driving and other crimes in the tiny village, opponents of the liquor stores said Thursday.
Their testimony came during a hearing before state alcohol regulators who are considering whether renew their licenses to sell alcohol in Whiteclay, a northwest Nebraska village with nine full-time residents.
The stores sold the equivalent of 3.5 million cans of alcohol last year because they are near the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, home of the Oglala Lakota Tribe, which is plagued with alcoholism. Critics of the stores blame Whiteclay for the tribe's high rates of fetal alcohol syndrome and poverty. The town draws regular panhandlers who are known to loiter, fight and pass out in fields lined with dirty clothes and empty beer cans.
Tatewin Means, the tribe's attorney general, said the problems in Whiteclay spill over into the reservation, but Nebraska law enforcement seldom works with the tribe's police force. Means said the tribe currently has about 25 officers to patrol a reservation with 40,000 people that's geographically larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined.
"It's been a nonexistent collaboration," Means said in sworn testimony to the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission.
Means said tribe members who are released from the nearby jail frequently go to Whiteclay, in violation of their probation, but the tribe has no authority to arrest them again in Nebraska and local law enforcement doesn't help.
Bruce BonFleur, who lives and runs a faith ministry in Whiteclay, said he doesn't believe the town has adequate law enforcement. BonFleur said conditions are so unsanitary that he once had to leave his office because the smell of human waste outside was overwhelming. His wife, Marsha BonFleur, said she had encountered a woman who claimed to have been gang-raped but was too scared to report the crime.
"Nearly everyone who's on the street is in some state of intoxication," Bruce BonFleur said.
Sheridan County Sheriff Terry Robbins disputed allegations that his deputies ignore the problems. He said deputies spend an average of 90 minutes to two hours a day in Whiteclay, but acknowledged under questioning that deputies don't visit every day. Deputies dedicate more time during the 1st and 15th of each month, when tribe members receive government benefit checks, he said.
If deputies see a person passed out in the street, "We get them up, see if they need medical attention, and try to see if we can get them home," Robbins said.
Nebraska State Patrol Investigator Rob Jackson said the patrol has received four formal complaints against the stores in the last two years, but he wasn't able to substantiate any of them. Jackson, based in Scottsbluff, said he inspected the four stores last year and never found any liquor law violations.
Andrew Snyder, an attorney for the beer stores, noted that Nebraska law enforcement currently has no way to look up tribal arrest warrants in its system.
Abram Neumann, who moved to Whiteclay in 2015 as part of a faith ministry, recounted a March 28 encounter in which he had to bandage a man who had been wounded in a knife fight. He said he saw the man the next day and his wounds appeared infected, so he persuaded him to go to the hospital.
Then in an April 2 incident in the village, Neumann said he saw a man nearly get run over by his girlfriend. He said the woman jumped out of the car and started beating the man.
Owners of the four beer stores said they haven't broken any laws. They also said they've seen a sharp increase in law enforcement over the last year.
Earlier this month, the Nebraska attorney general's office said it had filed 22 citations against the businesses for selling to bootleggers, failing to cooperate with investigators and other liquor-law violations. Those allegations are set for a separate hearing in May and can't be used as evidence in the license-renewal case.
Clay Brehmer, who owns Stateline Liquors in Whiteclay, said he doesn't sell to people who are regularly on the street and shoos away drinkers who stand too close to his store.
"I tell my employees to not let anyone stand out front, not let anyone loiter," he said.
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