Nebraska authorities arrested an activist seeking an end to alcohol sales in Whiteclay on Friday morning before he had a chance to file a complaint against a Whiteclay beer store owner.
Nebraska State Patrol troopers arrested T.R. McKenzie, a member of the group Deep Green Resistance, in the state office building minutes before he planned to file a complaint with the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission.
McKenzie had planned to speak with the media after filing a complaint against Jason Schwarting, owner of Arrowhead Inn, a beer store in Whiteclay.
"He was the messenger, but they took the messenger away," said Jessica Garraway, another member of Deep Green Resistance.
Sheridan County Sheriff Terry Robbins said McKenzie had an active Sheridan County warrant related to a May 3 incident in Whiteclay that involved activists allegedly telling a beer truck driver to leave town and then flashing a knife. They then reportedly stomped on beer containers in the shipment, smashing them against the truck and throwing them into the street. The truck's front tires allegedly were slashed.
Robbins said the warrant for McKenzie was for third-degree assault, terroristic threats, theft and two counts of criminal mischief. Robbins declined to comment on McKenzie's alleged role in the May 3 incident.
The May 3 event preceded another incidence of vandalism on May 13, when five to seven people smashed two beer trucks' headlights and several windows and then slashed a truck tire. They allegedly caused more than $10,000 in damage to the trucks, owned by Scottsbluff distributor High Plains Budweiser.
No one was hurt, and by Monday the distributor's workers made a delivery as Nebraska State Patrol and Sheridan County sheriff's deputies stood watch.
Mark Vasina, president of Nebraskans for Peace, said McKenzie wasn't involved in the May 3 incident and instead witnessed illegal actions by Schwarting, the beer store owner.
On Friday, Vasina delivered McKenzie's complaint to the Liquor Control Commission, which oversees state liquor license holders.
Garraway then read the complaint, which included allegations that Schwarting handed out baseball bats to men who were drinking in Whiteclay on May 15. Schwarting then allegedly told the men to attack two activists who were walking toward Whiteclay to buy sodas, according to McKenzie's complaint. It also alleges that Schwarting threatened the two women.
"When I heard Mr. Schwarting's threats, it sounded like he meant them," said Garraway, reading from the complaint.
Schwarting could not be reached for comment Friday.
Hobie Rupe, executive director of the Liquor Control Commission, said the commission would investigate the allegations against Schwarting with the State Patrol's help. He declined to comment on the specifics of the allegations, citing the active investigation. However, he said, a liquor license holder who is convicted of a felony automatically would lose his or her license.
"The commission takes violence of all sorts very seriously," Rupe said.