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Protesters of Lincoln development found guilty of refusing a police order and blocking a public roadway


Protesters of Lincoln development found guilty of refusing a police order and blocking a public roadway

Sep 21, 2023 | 4:58 pm ET
By Paul Hammel
Protesters of Lincoln development found guilty of refusing a police order and blocking a public roadway
A group of trees atop a hill have been cleared from the site of the Wilderness Crossing development, on the western edge of Lincoln along U.S. Highway 77. Participants in sweat lodge ceremonies across the road used to tie prayer bundles in the trees. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — A judge ruled Thursday that two protesters were guilty of obstructing a Lincoln development near a decades-old site of Native American sweat lodge ceremonies.

Lancaster County Judge Timothy Phillips, after hearing testimony on two days, ruled that Erin Poor and Wyatt Nelson violated two misdemeanor city ordinances: refusing a police order and blocking a public roadway.

Poor and Nelson were among those protesting the city’s approval of the 75-acre Wilderness Crossing housing development on the western edge of Lincoln, just across the road from Wilderness Park.

Sweat lodge ceremonies

The development is also across a gravel road from a private enclave called the “Fish Farm,” which has been the site of sweat lodge ceremonies since the 1970s.

Wilderness Park protest
Protests against the Wilderness Crossing development escalated in May 2022 with the erection of tipis on the site, just west of Lincoln’s Wilderness Park and across the road from a sweat lodge ceremonial site. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

Protesters maintained that the development would disturb and encroach on the religious ceremonies and that the city didn’t follow proper procedures in approving the project, located on undeveloped land owned by the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln.

After legal and political efforts failed, protesters erected a group of teepees on the site in 2022 to protest the city’s approval of the development.

Matters came to a head in February as construction crews moved in to to level the property and remove trees that dotted the property. Sweat lodge participants had tied Native American prayer bundles to the trees, and considered it part of their ceremonial grounds.

Six protesters were arrested in all, including some who linked arms to block bulldozers from advancing down a road to the development site.

Road had been closed off

After taking testimony from Lincoln police and the protesters, the judge rejected arguments made by their attorney, Spike Eickholt, that Poor and Nelson couldn’t be found guilty of obstructing a public roadway since the road had been closed off to the public.

The judge set Sept. 29 for sentencing Poor and Nelson.

Poor, in comments later Thursday, said that she was disappointed that the judge didn’t agree with one of their main arguments — that they were preventing a “greater harm” by blocking the bulldozers from removing the trees that held the prayer bundles.

The two misdemeanors are punishable by fines of up to $500 and the possibility of up to six months in jail.

Two other protesters were fined $50 each after pleading no contest to their charges.

And last week, the judge ruled that two additional demonstrators who requested a trial were guilty of trespassing on the development property but that the state had failed to prove they refused to comply with a police officer’s order.