Stephen Tyler Bieneman, a man charged with misdemeanor assault, remained on duty in a critical safety role at a secluded Antarctic icefield, even after an arrest warrant was issued in his name. The incident happened at the McMurdo Station in the U.S., and Bieneman claims it was merely “horseplay.” His trial is set to commence shortly in Honolulu.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has not explained why Bieneman, under investigation, was still entrusted with protecting a professor and three graduate students in a remote location. This enigmatic decision adds to the growing concerns about the U.S. Antarctic Program. Earlier, an AP investigation revealed a trend of women’s allegations of sexual harassment or assault being downplayed by their employers at McMurdo, often resulting in further risk.
The NSF’s oversight office reported plans to dispatch investigators to McMurdo to extend their inquiries into crimes like sexual assault and stalking.
The indictment states that Bieneman, while celebrating his birthday and after consuming a substantial amount of alcohol, walked into a dormitory lounge where a female was waiting for her laundry. A prank involving the theft of his name tag escalated into Bieneman physically restraining the woman, according to prosecutors.
The woman subsequently sought medical help and reported emotional and physical distress as a result of the incident, leading her to quit her job at McMurdo Station. Bieneman’s legal representative, Birney Bervar, dismissed the woman’s account, citing the lack of corroborating witnesses and an absence of medical evidence.
The NSF station manager and sworn Deputy U.S. Marshal Marc Tunstall began investigating the incident. Two weeks later, Bieneman and a scientific team were dispatched to a remote icefield, over 100 miles from McMurdo, to gather radar data for future ice-core drilling. Bieneman, a mountaineer, was tasked with ensuring the team’s safety.
Although Bieneman initially worked well with the team, his demeanor shifted, becoming “domineering and critical” of the two female graduate students at the camp, as described by University of Washington Professor Howard Conway. Conway also mentioned that Bieneman discussed his earlier altercation with a woman at McMurdo, portraying himself as the victim.
The graduate students were apprehensive around Bieneman, fearing potential reprisals if they revealed the story. Conway described the situation as “uncomfortable and stressful,” stating it was impossible to feel safe physically or emotionally around Bieneman.
Court documents reveal that Bieneman’s arrest warrant was issued on Dec. 12.