The vice president of an American Indian tribe suing some of the world's largest beer makers was arrested and jailed for what police say was an alcohol-related incident on a dry reservation, but he insisted Thursday that the incident was racially motivated and that he wasn't drinking.
Thomas Poor Bear was arrested Feb. 19 on the Pine Ridge Reservation on a charge of obstructing government function while receiving treatment at a hospital, according to a police report The Associated Press obtained from a reservation resident who had access due to his ties with the tribal government.
Police didn't immediately return calls Thursday night from AP seeking comment about the arrest report, in which an officer said Poor Bear had "the odor of intoxicants on his breath" and bloodshot eyes. His blood-alcohol content was listed at .306, nearly quadruple the legal limit for driving a car. Alcohol consumption is banned entirely on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Poor Bear, reached by AP Thursday at his tribal office, said he was not drinking alcohol and expects the obstruction charge to be dropped at a preliminary hearing this month. The obstruction charge is not related to alcohol, but the report indicated the arrest was alcohol-related.
The Oglala Sioux Tribe has sued several beer makers, saying they are knowingly contributing to the devastating alcohol-related problems on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The lawsuit, filed last month in the U.S. District Court of Nebraska, seeks $500 million in damages for the cost of health care, social services and child rehabilitation caused by chronic alcoholism on the reservation, located in some of the poorest counties in the country.
The lawsuit also targets four beer stores in Whiteclay, Neb., a town near the reservation's border. Whiteclay has only about a dozen residents but sold nearly 5 million cans of beer in 2010, according to the federal lawsuit.
Alcoholism is a rampant problem among the reservation, but Poor Bear said he had not consumed alcohol on Feb. 19. Poor Bear has been outspoken in his criticism of Whiteclay beer stores for providing alcohol to tribal members.
Poor Bear said he had been having chest pains earlier in the day and was headed to the hospital when he was stopped for not having a driver's license. He continued to the hospital, where a white officer attempted to arrest him.
"I said no white man is going to arrest me in my country," Poor Bear said. "I said you go get an Indian cop and bring him up there. I will gladly go with him on this no driver's license warrant."
But the police report said the officer was dispatched to the emergency room at the request of the hospital.
The police report said Poor Bear was agitated at the officer, refusing at first to give up a pocket knife he was using to cut off his hospital bracelet.
"I told him at this time to hand me the knife and he refused, telling me that I could get it when we got to the jail," the officer wrote. Poor Bear eventually relinquished the knife and was transported to a local jail, according to the report.
Poor Bear said he spent three nights in the tribal jail before being released on his own recognizance at a hearing on Feb. 22. He said he has been assured the charges will be dropped during his preliminary appearance on March 16.
"I'm sure the tribal court will apologize to me. I'll admit to the no driver's license," he said.
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