Reward offered for information on woman's death in Whiteclay

Reward offered for information on woman's death in Whiteclay

Activists looking to end beer sales in the troubled village of Whiteclay have chipped in reward money for information on the death of a woman found beaten behind a building there in August.

Sherry Wounded Foot, a 50-year-old mother of three, was found unconscious Aug. 5 and died in a hospital 12 days later. Her killing remains an unsolved case. 

Soon, a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest will be posted on the Nebraska Crime Stoppers website.

"There was a stark realization that there was a family who wouldn't be spending Thanksgiving with their loved one because she was beaten to death in Whiteclay," said John Maisch, an activist who arranged the reward.

It's uncommon, but not unheard of, for private citizens to contribute reward money to Nebraska Crime Stoppers for a specific case.

The last time was a few years ago, said Steve Sunday, Wilber police chief and president of the state Crime Stoppers board.

A thousand dollars is the most Nebraska Crime Stoppers will offer in a single case. But, Maisch said, "to me it would be not only helpful, but it would be appropriate if the beer stores put up some money."

Maisch and others have argued Wounded Foot's death is further cause for Whiteclay's four beer stores to be shut down.

The stores sold the equivalent of 3.5 million cans of beer last year, in a town of about a dozen people on the doorstep of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where alcohol is banned.

Vagrancy and violence are rampant in Whiteclay, and activists say beer sales there are largely to blame for systemic issues on Pine Ridge, including alcoholism and related birth defects from fetal alcohol syndrome.

Wounded Foot's family has said her brother, Sanford Wounded Foot, was similarly found lifeless and beaten on Whiteclay's main street in 2012. No arrests were made in that case.

The Nebraska State Patrol and the Sheridan County Sheriff's office are investigating Sherry Wounded Foot's death, said Sheridan County Attorney Jamie Simmons. The Nebraska Attorney General's Office is also involved, she said.

"It's being treated as a homicide investigation," Simmons said Wednesday.

In October, a county commissioner told a legislative committee that local law enforcement "absolutely" does not have adequate resources for proper policing in Whiteclay.

The statement led the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission to order the beer stores to reapply for their licenses, a process that is expected to take several months.

Maisch, a former Oklahoma liquor regulator who grew up in Nebraska, produced a documentary film about Whiteclay.

"We can't really do anything about those who have died," he said Wednesday. "We can certainly do something to prevent further deaths."

John Maisch