WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A man accused of physically assaulting a woman at a U.S. research station in Antarctica was then sent to a remote ice field where he was tasked with protecting the safety of a professor and three young graduate students, and he stayed there for a while. a full week after a warrant was issued for his arrest, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
Stephen Tyler Bieneman has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor assault following last November’s incident at McMurdo Station, which his lawyer said was nothing more than a “ruckus.” The case is scheduled to go to trial Monday in Honolulu.
The National Science Foundation declined to answer AP’s questions about why Bieneman was sent to the field in a critical security role while he was under investigation. The case raises further questions about decision-making under the U.S. Antarctic program, which is already under intense scrutiny.
In August, an AP investigation found that McMurdo women said their allegations of sexual harassment or assault were downplayed by their employers, often putting them or others in danger.
And on Friday, the watchdog office overseeing the NSF announced it would send investigators to McMurdo this month as part of expanding its investigative mission to include crimes such as sexual assault and stalking .
In their indictment, prosecutors say that late on Nov. 24 or early Nov. 25 of last year, a woman was sitting in the living room of a dormitory waiting for her laundry when Bieneman, who was celebrating her birthday with many of drinks, entered.
When he went to the bathroom, the woman took his name badge from his jacket as a prank, then refused to give it back, running to the end of a couch, according to prosecutors.
Bieneman then took her to the ground, put her on her back and put his left shin to her throat while reaching into his pocket for the tag, according to prosecutors. The woman desperately tried to communicate that she couldn’t breathe, signaling a choking motion and tapping on her leg after a minute before Bieneman finally found the tag and removed her shin from her airway, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors say the woman went to a medical clinic.
“At a follow-up visit a week later, victim A reported improvements in muscle tension, but she suffered from poor sleep and appetite, anxiety and depression following the assault,” prosecutors said in the indictment. “Shortly thereafter, Victim A quit her job at McMurdo Station.”
Bieneman’s lawyer, Birney Bervar, said in an August email to the AP that eyewitnesses had not confirmed the woman’s account and that a doctor who examined her shortly afterward The incident found no evidence of an “assault of the nature and degree described.”
Marc Tunstall, the NSF station director who is also a sworn deputy U.S. marshal, heard about the incident on Nov. 29 and began an investigation, according to prosecutors.
On December 10, two weeks after the incident, Bieneman and the science team took a Twin Otter plane to set up camp on the isolated Allan Hills Icefield, more than 100 miles from McMurdo. The team, which studies ice cores, was there to collect radar data to help select a site for future ice core drilling.
In his role as a climber, Bieneman was responsible for the group’s safety in an unforgiving environment. The man originally assigned to the role had suffered a mini-stroke two days before his deployment, according to documents obtained by the AP.
Bieneman, who goes by his middle name Tyler, initially worked well with the team preparing for camp.
“However, shortly thereafter, it became clear that something was wrong with Tyler,” wrote Professor Howard Conway of the University of Washington on behalf of the COLDEX field team in a complaint filed with from the NSF and obtained by the AP.
Conway and the graduate students did not respond to AP’s requests for comment.
In the complaint, Conway described Bieneman as initially being “domineering and critical” toward the two graduate students at the camp.
“One evening in the first week’s kitchen tent, he told the graduate students that early in the season at McMurdo he had gotten into a fight with a woman, during which he got into a fight with her , and then had difficulty breathing and needed medical attention. “wrote Conway.
The professor said Bieneman presented himself as the victim in the incident because he was under surveillance. He said the graduate students, fearing possible retaliation if they revealed the story, felt they had to tiptoe around Bieneman.
“It was uncomfortable and stressful to be with him because it was not possible to feel safe physically or emotionally,” Conway wrote.
Court documents show an arrest warrant was issued for Bieneman on Dec. 12.
The professor wrote that Bieneman was finally replaced at camp on December 19. He said they were never told Bieneman was under investigation or given a reason why he was removed from his assignment. They pieced it together later when the affair became public.
“We were stunned to discover (1) that Tyler had been assigned to our team after it was already known that he was under investigation, and (2) that he had remained on the field with us for a full week after being accused of assault.” Conway wrote in the complaint.
The NSF said questions regarding Bieneman’s assignment to the camp were part of an active law enforcement case and should be directed to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Hawaii. The U.S. attorney’s office in Hawaii did not respond to a request for comment.
According to court records, when Bieneman returned to McMurdo after the camp, he was fired, given a plane ticket to the United States and arrested upon landing in Hawaii. He was later released on $25,000 bail pending his Monday trial.