Panel Considers Law Enforcement In Whiteclay

Apr 7, 2017

Nebraska board members are weighing whether they should renew beer store liquor licenses in Whiteclay. The tiny unincorporated town is across the state line from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. People - often Native Americans - buy millions of cans of beer there each year. Thursday the panel heard testimony.

Public challengers of Whiteclay beer sales say the law enforcement presence is too small for the criminal consequences of public intoxication. Supporters of licensing say the four alcohol stores in Whiteclay should receive permits, because the situation has not changed and they’ve ad continued permission to sell alcohol.

Nebraska's Liquor Control Commission listened to people testify and answer questions for more than 10 hours. The conversations reveal the complex relationship between the Oglala Lakota County in South Dakota and its Sheridan County, Nebraska neighbors.

Tribal Attorney General Tatewin Means is the top prosecutor for the Oglala Sioux nation. She says Native American law enforcement officers have a working relationship with South Dakota officials. Means says that isn't how it works with Nebraska.

"It’s been a non-existent collaboration," Means says. "So, for our law enforcement, I know that they reach out to Sheridan County. Sometimes there’s chases that go either way, and  there’s some communication in that regard. But sit-down collaborations to figure out how we can strategize to provide more effective law enforcement in Whiteclay? It doesn’t happen."

Not all authorities have that same perspective on communication and jurisdiction. Sheridan County Sheriff Terry Robbins says his officials sometimes take people from Nebraska one mile to Pine Ridge – but not any farther or they encounter issues.

"My officers get stopped by tribal police and want to know what we’re doing up there, because they think we’re trying to interview on the reservation," Robbins says. "And they’re a sovereign nation, and they don’t want any outside law enforcement there."

Three Nebraska commissioners expect written closing arguments from alcohol license supporters and opponents on April 14. They expect to vote on or before May 2.