Whiteclay beer store fined $600 for selling to Pine Ridge teen

Whiteclay beer store fined $600 for selling to Pine Ridge teen

One of Whiteclay's four beer stores has been fined $600 for selling alcohol to a teenager from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in October.

A Nebraska State Patrol trooper found a 24-ounce can of Corona beer and a six-pack of Budweiser in the teenager's car after stopping him as he left Whiteclay about 9 p.m. on Oct. 1.

The 19-year-old, who had a tribal identification card, said he bought the beer from Arrowhead Inn.

Owner Jason Schwarting pleaded guilty to selling to a minor, and Tuesday, the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission suspended the store's license for 12 days. Licensees can avoid suspension by paying a fine of $50 per day instead, and virtually all liquor stores do.

Schwarting did not attend Tuesday's commission meeting in Lincoln and didn't respond to a message left at his store.

The violation could be a factor as the Liquor Commission weighs whether to let the Whiteclay stores remain open, said Hobe Rupe, the commission's executive director.

Last month, citing questions about law enforcement, commissioners ordered all four stores to reapply for their licenses if they want to continue selling beer in the unincorporated village about 200 yards from South Dakota's Pine Ridge, where alcohol is banned.

Many Sheridan County residents feel ending beer sales in Whiteclay will lead to more violence and vagrancy in nearby Gordon and Rushville. 

But activists say shutting down Whiteclay is a key step toward ending rampant alcoholism on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Arrowhead Inn admitted to selling alcohol to a minor in 2010, too long ago for that violation to count along with the more recent incident.

Activist John Maisch said Arrowhead Inn sold the equivalent of 3,650 cans of beer each day last year, so suspending the store's license for 12 days would have cost it much more than the fine.

"This wasn't even a sting operation. This was a real kid who was allowed to buy beer at Arrowhead Inn in Whiteclay," said Maisch, a former Oklahoma liquor prosecutor who produced a documentary about Whiteclay. "I can't imagine one parent or grandparent in the state of Nebraska who would think today's penalty was even remotely sufficient."

John Maisch