Individual Charged with Assault in Antarctica Subsequently Deployed to Isolated Field

by Chloe Baker
Antarctic assault case

Stephen Tyler Bieneman, who stands accused of assaulting a woman at McMurdo Station, a U.S. research facility in Antarctica, was later assigned to a desolate icefield as part of a team responsible for the wellbeing of a lead professor and three graduate students. Even after an arrest warrant was issued for his apprehension, Bieneman continued in this role for an additional week, according to records accessed by The Big Big News.

Bieneman has entered a plea of not guilty to the charge of misdemeanor assault for an event that occurred last November at the Antarctic station, a situation his defense attorney dismissed as trivial “horseplay.” A trial is scheduled for Monday in Honolulu.

The National Science Foundation (NSF), when queried by the Associated Press about Bieneman’s field assignment amid an ongoing investigation, declined to comment. This development adds to the growing concerns regarding the governance of the U.S. Antarctic Program, which has been subject to criticism.

An August probe by the AP revealed that female staff members at McMurdo Station reported sexual harassment and assault claims being downplayed by their superiors, potentially placing them and others at risk.

In addition, the NSF’s Office of Inspector General announced plans to dispatch investigative teams to McMurdo Station to expand their oversight to encompass crimes such as sexual assault and harassment.

Prosecutors allege that on the evening of November 24 or early the following morning, Bieneman, after drinking in celebration of his birthday, encountered a woman in a dormitory lounge. The situation escalated when he purportedly subdued her on the ground, pressing his shin against her throat while searching for his name tag she had playfully taken. The indictment details that the woman gestured and tapped to indicate her distress before Bieneman ceased and she could breathe again. She later sought medical attention.

The indictment details the victim’s subsequent struggles with physical and emotional ailments post-assault, which ultimately led to her resignation from McMurdo Station.

Birney Bervar, Bieneman’s attorney, countered the allegations, citing a lack of corroborative witness accounts and medical evidence soon after the incident that would indicate an assault as described by the prosecution.

The incident came to the attention of NSF station manager and Deputy U.S. Marshal Marc Tunstall on November 29, who initiated an inquiry.

On December 10, Bieneman joined a scientific expedition by air to Allan Hills, a distant icefield over 100 miles from McMurdo, to assist in radar data collection for future research endeavors. Bieneman was expected to ensure the group’s safety, filling in for another individual who had recently experienced health issues.

Initially, Bieneman cooperated with the field team in establishing their camp, but according to a complaint by University of Washington Professor Howard Conway, Bieneman’s behavior soon became problematic, especially towards two female graduate students. Despite his unsettling disclosure of a prior physical altercation with a woman, the graduate students refrained from reporting, anxious about potential repercussions.

An arrest warrant for Bieneman was issued on December 12, but he was not removed from the icefield assignment until December 19. The field team later deduced the reasons for his late removal upon the case gaining public attention.

The NSF has referred inquiries about Bieneman’s role in the field to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Hawaii, which has not commented on the matter.

Following his return to McMurdo and subsequent dismissal, Bieneman faced arrest upon arrival in Hawaii. He was then released on a $25,000 bail as he awaits trial.

This report also includes contributions from AP researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Antarctic assault case

What are the allegations against Stephen Tyler Bieneman?

Stephen Tyler Bieneman is accused of physically assaulting a woman at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. After a night of drinking, he allegedly pinned the woman to the ground, placing his shin over her throat while searching for his name tag, leading to the woman’s inability to breathe for a period of time.

What was Bieneman’s role after the incident?

After the assault allegations, Bieneman was sent to a remote icefield over 100 miles from McMurdo Station to fulfill a critical safety role, ensuring the wellbeing of a professor and three graduate students during a scientific expedition.

Why is Bieneman’s case causing concern?

Bieneman’s case has raised concerns about the decision-making within the U.S. Antarctic Program, particularly why he was allowed to remain in a position of responsibility after an arrest warrant was issued for his alleged assault.

Has Bieneman responded to the allegations?

Bieneman has pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor assault charge, and his lawyer has stated that the incident was merely “horseplay” and not as serious as alleged.

What actions are being taken by the National Science Foundation (NSF)?

The NSF’s Office of Inspector General is sending investigators to McMurdo Station to expand their investigative scope to include sexual assault and harassment, following a pattern of claims by women at the station that their reports of misconduct were minimized.

What was the outcome for the victim after the incident?

The victim reported suffering from muscle tightness, lack of sleep, anxiety, and depression following the assault, eventually leading to her departure from her position at McMurdo Station.

What is the current status of Bieneman’s trial?

As of the latest update, Bieneman was released on $25,000 bail and is awaiting trial, which is scheduled to take place in Honolulu.

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Jake Tapper November 7, 2023 - 1:31 am

This is a serious issue, why was Bieneman still in the field after a warrant for his arrest was out?

Ronald Smith November 7, 2023 - 5:35 am

There’s always two sides to a story, Bieneman says he’s innocent… let’s see what the trial reveals.

Laura McDermott November 7, 2023 - 7:53 am

we need better safety protocols in these remote areas. it’s like the wild west out there

Mike Johnson November 7, 2023 - 8:12 am

What about the victim though? She left her job, seems like she was really affected by what happened.

Samantha Jones November 7, 2023 - 11:44 am

i cant believe the NSF let him stay on duty, that’s just irresponsible and scary for those students…


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