Whiteclay activist arrested while filing complaint

By GRANT SCHULTE / ASSOCIATED PRESS / May 24, 2013

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — An activist who is fighting to end alcohol sales in Whiteclay was arrested Friday before he could file a complaint against a beer store owner in the tiny Nebraska town, which borders South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

State Patrol troopers arrested Timothy R. McKenzie Jr., of Jefferson, S.D., as members of the social justice group Deep Green Resistance were preparing to deliver a complaint letter to the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission in Lincoln.

Group members claim that the owner of the Arrowhead Inn, a Whiteclay beer store, gave baseball bats and a stick to men who frequent the town on May 15 and urged them to attack protesters who camp across the state line. The reservation bans alcohol, but critics of Whiteclay blame the town for alcohol-induced violence and health problems among members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

“I have serious concerns for the safety of the women and children at the camp based on what I have personally witnessed,” McKenzie said in the letter.

McKenzie, 33, is wanted in Sheridan County, which includes Whiteclay, on allegations that he vandalized a beer truck three weeks ago while it was making a delivery. Authorities have charged him with making terroristic threats — a felony — and misdemeanor counts of assault, criminal mischief and shoplifting.

Vandals have struck two beer trucks in the last month. In the first incident, activists on May 3 told a beer truck driver to leave town and then flashed a knife, according to the Sheridan County Attorney’s office. They started stomping on beer containers, smashed them against the truck and threw them into the street. The truck’s two front tires were slashed.

The second vandalism act on May 13 caused more than $10,000 in damage to a beer truck owned by High Plains Budweiser, a distributor based in Scottsbluff, Neb. The distributing company’s owner has said two of its trucks were stopped for a delivery when a vehicle drove up. Five to seven people reportedly jumped out and smashed the truck’s headlights, two windows and its windshield. A tire also was cut.

Mark Vasina, a documentary filmmaker who was worked extensively in Whiteclay, said the protesters have received public support from church groups and tribe members, including tribal president Bryan Brewer. Vasina said the camp’s organizers have stressed the need to keep the protests peaceful, and he added that McKenzie denies the charges.

Activists have targeted Whiteclay for well over a decade with marches, meetings with Nebraska officials and road blockades designed to stop alcohol from crossing into the reservation.

The Oglala Sioux tribal government filed an unsuccessful federal lawsuit last year that sought $500 million in legal damages from the town’s four beer stores, its distributors and the global manufacturers.

Beer sales in Whiteclay have tumbled over the last two years, according to the Liquor Control Commission. The town, which has roughly a dozen residents, sold the equivalent of nearly 3.9 million, 12-ounce cans of beer in 2012 — a 10 percent drop since 2011, according to the commission’s year-end report.

A man who answered the phone at the Arrowhead Inn said owner Jason Schwarting was not available to comment. A phone message left at Schwarting’s home was not returned.

Hobert Rupe, the commission’s executive director, said his office has passed McKenzie’s complaint letter along to Nebraska State Patrol investigators. Rupe said he could not comment on the specific allegations because the case was active.

Frank LaMere, a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, said the situation in Whiteclay reflects a growing anger among reservation residents.

LaMere, who has campaigned against Whiteclay for years, blasted McKenzie’s arrest as a form of law enforcement intimidation.

“All the State Patrol did, and all the Liquor Control Commission did today was throw grease on the fire,” LaMere said. “Whiteclay is a tinderbox.”

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