By GRANT SCHULTE
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ State law enforcement officers were helping patrol a small Nebraska town Monday following the vandalism of two beer trucks earlier this month near a South Dakota Indian reservation where alcohol is banned.
Col. David Sankey, the superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol, said more officers will keep watch on the tiny Nebraska town of Whiteclay during beer deliveries because of an uptick in vandalism from protesters opposing beer sales.
Whiteclay sits on the border of South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, a poverty-stricken area that prohibits alcohol but is nonetheless plagued by alcoholism.
Activists have protested in Whiteclay for decades with marches, campsites 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.
Sankey said most of the protests over the years have remained peaceful, but authorities are concerned that the vandalism could escalate. Many of the activists are not from the area, he said, and they're avoiding arrest by crossing back onto the reservation, where Nebraska authorities have no jurisdiction.
"The level to which these folks have increased these activities is concerning to us,'' Sankey said during a conference call with reporters on an unrelated issue. "Most of the folks over the years have demonstrated. They've perhaps blocked the highway, perhaps tried to block entrance to one of the retail outlets, but it's been mostly peaceful. This group in the last few weeks has escalated their level of violence, and it's certainly got our attention.''
Authorities have made no arrests. Sankey said the patrol is working with the Sheridan County sheriff's office in northwest Nebraska, as well as the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. A phone message left with the Oglala Sioux Department of Public Safety, which oversees law enforcement on the reservation, wasn't immediately returned Monday.
Vandals have hit two beer trucks in the last three weeks and reportedly threatened one truck driver with a knife. In the first incident on May 3, activists reportedly told a beer truck driver to leave town, and then flashed a knife. They then started stomping on beer containers in the shipment, smashing them against the truck and throwing them into the street. The truck's two front tires were slashed, said Vic Clarke, a Whiteclay grocery store owner who witnessed the attack.
The second vandalism act happened on May 13. It caused more than $10,000 in damage to a beer truck owned by High Plains Budweiser, said Jeff Scheinost, president of the Scottsbluff-based distributor.
Two of the company's trucks had stopped for a delivery at Stateline Liquor when a sport utility vehicle drove up from the south, Scheinost said. Between five and seven people jumped out and smashed both of the truck's headlights, two of its windows and the windshield, and slashed its right-front tire.
No one was hurt. Scheinost said three of his employees were inside the store at the time, and a fourth who was unloading the truck ran inside to get them. By the time his workers returned, Scheinost said the vandals were gone.
Scheinost said workers made another delivery on Monday without incident, while the Nebraska State Patrol and Sheridan County sheriff's deputies stood watch.
"There was a significant presence,'' he said.
A cellphone message left for activist Olowan Martinez, who has recently protested in Whiteclay, wasn't immediately returned. The Native American from Porcupine, S.D., has previously said that the protests were peaceful, but intended to send a message that the beer suppliers aren't welcome in the area.