Whiteclay beer store escapes liquor sanctions

Whiteclay beer store escapes liquor sanctions

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Attorney General Jon Bruning asks Gary Brehmer in June 2003 what he thinks needs to be done in Whiteclay. (LJS File)

When was the 24-ounce can of Hurricane sold? The state trooper said it was sold at 11:30 p.m. to an obviously drunk  couple.

The store manager said it was sold four hours earlier, when there was no evidence they were drunk. That disagreement stymied prosecutors hoping for a liquor license violation conviction against State Line Liquor, one of three liquor outlets in Whiteclay that serves the nearby dry Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

After a public hearing Tuesday, Nebraska Liquor Control Commissioners said they didn’t have enough factual evidence the malt liquor was sold late at night to an obviously drunk patron and dismissed a charge against the store.

Co-owner Dan Brehmer was relieved with the verdict but will fight another attempt to close his store next week.

Three Sheridan County residents are protesting the automatic renewal of liquor licenses for the three Whiteclay stores, and a hearing is scheduled before Sheridan County Commissioners March 6.

“It’s a never-ending fight,” Brehmer said.

Nebraskans for Peace and several Native leaders have tried for years to get the Whiteclay outlets closed, either through state law or by consistent police enforcement.

The stores sell millions of cans of beer in a town of a dozen residents. Those who want the outlets closed contend they consistently sell to people who are intoxicated, to minors and to bootleggers.

Brehmer and the manager who sold the can of beer told commissioners Tuesday they run a “tight ship,” trying not to break state laws.

And if the Whiteclay stores close, the people from the reservation will simply drive 40 miles to Rushville to buy liquor, he said, and that will increase car accidents and deaths.

The solution, he said, is for the tribe to change the dry status of Pine Ridge Reservation so people can drink at home.

This was the second time in five years the commission has dismissed a charge of selling to an intoxicated person brought against a Whiteclay beer outlet.

The Arrowhead Inn won its case on in 2001 after commissioners decided a layperson could not tell the two men buying the beer were intoxicated. A police officer testified he could tell the person buying alcohol was drunk using his specialized training. But the two men didn’t stagger, slur their speech or show other obvious signs.

But in the State Line incident, the Nebraska State Patrol had video footage showing an obviously drunk couple and breath tests indicating both had blood-alcohol levels three times the legal limit for driving.

State Trooper Mickey Downing said he believed the State Line Liquor employee sold an obviously intoxicated woman a can of beer at about 11:30 p.m. Sept. 7, 2005.

But employee Don Trombley told commissioners he sold the woman beer four hours earlier and she was not drunk at that time.

The Liquor Control Commission, on a 2-1 vote, found State Line Liquor not guilty of selling to an intoxicated person because there wasn’t enough evidence about when the beer was sold.

Commissioner Bob Logsdon voted for a guilty verdict because he believed the police officer.

Commissioner Dick Coyne of Omaha said he believed the store was guilty of selling to an intoxicated person but the evidence presented wasn’t clear.

A Nebraskans for Peace representative who attended the hearing was disappointed.

“It was the word of a law enforcement officer against the word of a liquor manager,” said Mark Vasina.

The videotape from the trooper’s car gives additional insight into the problems that go on nightly at Whiteclay — people drinking on the streets and drunk people able to buy more alcohol, he said.

Reach Nancy Hicks at 473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com.

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