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(Neb)-Liquor Commission Takes Whiteclay Licenses Under Advisement After 11-Hour Hearing  Listen

By: John Axtell Posted at: 04/07/2017 01:45 AM
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - In a sense, yesterday's marathon hearing by the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission on renewal of the liquor licenses for the 4 beer stores in Whiteclay ended with a whimper instead of a bang. In front of an audience that had dwindled from more than 150 to a few dozen 11 hours after it began and after nearly 10 hours of testimony, Chairman Bob Batt of Omaha said they needed more time to decide.

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Commission Executive Director Hobart Rupe conducted the hearings for the Arrowhead Inn, Jumping Eagle Inn, Stateline Liquor, and D&S Pioneer Service together because the issues were the same for each. The  stores sell the equivalent of million of cans of beer each year, nearly all of it to residents of the adjacent Pine Ridge Reservation, which is plagued by alcoholism despite a tribal ban on alcohol.

     The liquor commission last November required all 4 stores to go through a "long form" reapplication rather than the shorter renewal process after questions on the adequacy of law enforcement in Whiteclay were raised during a legislative hearing on the issue of liquor sales there. Rupe emphasized from the very beginning that law enforcement would be the only issue at the hearing.

     ((Hobart Rupe     Rupe 1

The narrowness of the topic was one reason from the length of hearing as Rupe, acting as the hearings officer, had to repeatedly deal with objections by 3 attorneys - Andrew Snyder for the 4 stores, David Domina for the 5 Sheridan County residents who requested the hearing, and Assistant Attorney General Milissa Johnson-Wiles as legal counsel for the commission.

     Snyder repeated his objections to the commission requiring the "long form" reapplication, arguing that the Nebraska Supreme Court and state law require only the renewal process in these cases and that all that the commission can consider is if the stores and their owners currently meet the requirements of a license, not whether there is adequate law enforcement in Whiteclay.

     Testimony from those wanting the licenses denied focused on lengthy or non-existent response times to calls of frequent fights, drunken driving and other crimes in Whiteclay. The first witness was Oglala Sioux tribal attorney general Tatewin Means, who said the problems in Whiteclay spill over into the reservation and the tribe's working relationship with Sheridan County Sheriff Terry Robbins is "nonexistent."

     Among those recounting horror stories about crime in Whiteclay were 3 members of the local Christian outreach program Lakota Hope - Bruce and Marsha BonFleur, who founded the program, and Abram Neumann, a street preacher.

     Local officials and the beer store owners discounted many of the crime claims and said law enforcement has been stepped up over the last 18 months. Nebraska State Patrol Administrative Services Major Kyle Otte - familiar with Whiteclay from about a decade as a sergeant, lieutenant, and captain in the Patrol's Scottsbluff-based Troop E - said the Patrol logged 374 hours of uniform patrols in Whiteclay last year with another 170 additional hours of plain-clothed patrols during.

       Sheriff Robbins, who became a deputy in 1979 and sheriff in 1994, spent most of an hour in the afternoon as a witness...much of it under intense cross-examination from Domina. Over one 10-minute stretch, Rupe upheld about a dozen objections from Snyder that Dominat was badgering the sheriff...with the two attorneys mixing it up verbally at times as well.

     Robbins was questioned and criticized for a wide range of things including 911 response logs, his statement that his 5 deputies spend about 20 hours per week in Whiteclay but almost never make arrests for alcohol-related crimes, that they sometimes take home drinkers who've passed out, and for his proud boast that he never exceeds his budget and always comes in well under it.

      Commissioner James Krotz brought Sheridan County budget documents for the past 5 years that showed the sheriff normally spent only about 80% of his allotted funds. Robbins had testified he's been trying to add more deputies, but that the county's isolated location and the low salary made it hard to keep even the deputies he has, much less add more.

     Asked why the commissioners gave Robbins a budget this year that's nearly double what he spent last year, Krotz said It was in large part because they didn't know what impact the opening of last year of the Oglala Sioux nursing just south of Whiteclay would have on the demand for law enforcement.

    After Krotz said he felt the county has "adequate law enforcement. In fact, probably a little better than that," he was asked why then he was looking at increasing law enforcement. Giving an answer that hinted at his background as a retired Episcopal priest and bishop, Krotz said he and his wife in the country on a gravel road and while he feels it's an adequate road, his neighbor would like to see it paved because "it could be better."

      NET - Nebraska Educational Telecommunications - provided a live video web stream of the entire hearing.


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