Jury Rules on Antarctic Assault Claims: 'This Vindicates Him'

Stephen Tyler Bieneman was accused of putting shin across throat of woman at research station
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 9, 2023 8:56 AM CST
Jury Lets Man Off the Hook After Antarctica Assault Claims
McMurdo Station is photographed from the air on Oct. 27, 2014.   (National Science Foundation via AP, File)

A federal jury on Wednesday found a man not guilty of assaulting a woman at a US research station in Antarctica in a case that drew attention amid reports of harassment and assault at the station. Stephen Tyler Bieneman pulled tissues from a box on the defense table and cried as each juror was polled and said they found him not guilty of misdemeanor assault in connection with an incident last November at McMurdo Station, per the AP. Jurors deliberated for 1 1/2 hours after a day in which Bieneman testified that he didn't initiate the incident or harm the woman. "It's taken a huge toll on my reputation," he said outside the Honolulu courtroom. "This vindicates him," said his attorney, Birney Bervar.

Assistant US Attorney Mohammad Khatib told jurors this week in US District Court in Honolulu that Bieneman got on top of the woman after she took his name tag from his coat as a joke. The prosecutor said Bieneman pinned her down and put his shin across her throat, preventing her from breathing. In his closing argument Wednesday, Khatib said Bieneman could have seriously injured or killed the woman. Bieneman, a field safety coordinator trained in conducting searches and rescues, testified that the woman "kind of immediately got in my face" when he returned to a dormitory lounge after celebrating his birthday and Thanksgiving with a group. According to his testimony, she had cursed at him and was upset she wasn't invited to the gathering.

At one point, he said, he left the lounge to return a key to a hut he used for the party. When he returned, he noticed one of the alcoholic seltzers he left behind was open. He said he asked the woman if she took it, and she said she also took his name tag. "I said, 'Hey, that's not cool ... please give it back,'" Bieneman testified. "She said, 'You're going to have to fight me for it.'" He said she grabbed his arms and fell onto her back while holding on to him. "She was using all of her strength against me to prevent me from getting my name tag back," he testified, denying that he put his shin on her neck. "Not only did I not assault her—I was trying my absolute hardest not to hurt her," he said. Dr. Christopher Martinez, the physician who later examined the woman, testified Wednesday that he had expressed doubts that she was assaulted.

story continues below

Under cross-examination by Khatib, the doctor denied trivializing her complaints of pain. After the incident, Bieneman was sent to a remote ice field, where he was tasked with protecting the safety of a professor and three young grad students. He remained there for a full week after a warrant for his arrest was issued, documents obtained by the AP show. The verdict comes amid increased scrutiny of McMurdo. An AP investigation in August uncovered a pattern of women at the research station who said their claims of sexual harassment or assault were minimized by their employers, often leading to them or others being put in further danger. Last week, the watchdog office overseeing the National Science Foundation said it was sending investigators to McMurdo as it expands its investigative mission to include alleged crimes such as sexual assault and stalking.

(More Antarctica stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.