WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — 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 ensuring the safety of a professor and three young people to protect graduate students, and he remained there for 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 assault in connection with the incident last November at McMurdo Station, which his lawyer said was just “nonsense.” The case is scheduled to be heard in Honolulu on Monday.
The National Science Foundation declined to answer AP questions about why Bieneman was sent into the field in a critical security role during the investigation. The case raises further questions about decision-making in the US Antarctic program, which is already under review.
An AP investigation in August discovered a pattern from women at McMurdo who said their allegations of sexual harassment or assault were downplayed by their employers, often resulting in them or others being placed in further danger.
And on Friday, the watchdog agency that oversees the NSF said that was the case Dispatch of investigators to McMurdo this month as it expands its investigative mandate to include crimes such as sexual assault and stalking.
In their indictment, prosecutors say that late on Nov. 24 or early Nov. 25 last year, a woman was sitting in a dorm room waiting for her laundry when Bieneman, who had been celebrating his birthday with lots of drinks, walked in.
When he went to the bathroom, the woman jokingly took his name tag from his jacket and then refused to give it back, walking around the end of a couch, prosecutors say.
Bieneman then took her to the ground, put her on her back and placed his left shin over her neck as he searched her pocket for the tag, prosecutors say. Desperately trying to communicate that she couldn’t breathe, the woman made a choking motion and tapped his leg as a minute passed before Bieneman finally found the tag and removed his shinbone from her airway, the indictment says.
According to the prosecutor’s office, the woman visited a medical clinic.
“At a follow-up visit a week later, Victim A reported improvements in muscle tension, but suffered from lack of sleep and appetite, anxiety, and depression due to the assault,” prosecutors said in the indictment. “Soon thereafter, Victim A resigned her employment at McMurdo Station.”
Bieneman’s attorney, Birney Bervar, said in an email to the AP in August that eyewitnesses did not corroborate the woman’s story and a doctor who examined her shortly after the incident found no evidence of “an attack of the type and severity she described.” have found.
NSF station chief Marc Tunstall, who is also a sworn deputy U.S. marshal, heard about the incident on Nov. 29 and began investigating, according to prosecutors.
On December 10, two weeks after the incident, Bieneman and the science team flew the Twin Otter aircraft to set up camp on the remote Allan Hills ice field, more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) from McMurdo. The team studying ice cores was on site to collect radar data to help select a site for future ice core drilling.
In his role as mountaineer, Bieneman was responsible for the group’s safety in the unforgiving environment. The man who was originally assigned the role suffered a minor stroke two days before his deployment, according to the AP.
Bieneman, whose middle name is Tyler, initially worked well with the team setting up the camp.
“Shortly thereafter, however, it became clear that something was wrong with Tyler,” University of Washington professor Howard Conway wrote on behalf of the COLDEX field team in a complaint to the NSF obtained by the AP.
Conway and the graduate students did not respond to AP requests for comment.
In the complaint, Conway described Bieneman as initially “domineering and critical” of the two graduate students at the camp.
“One evening during the first week in the kitchen tent, he told the graduate students that he had an argument with a woman at McMurdo early in the season in which he wrestled with her, after which she had difficulty breathing and needed medical attention,” Conway wrote.
The professor said Bieneman portrayed himself as a victim of the incident because he was under surveillance. He said the graduate students felt they had to tiptoe past Bieneman for fear of possible retaliation if they revealed the story.
“It was uncomfortable and stressful to be around him because you couldn’t feel physically or emotionally safe,” Conway wrote.
Court documents show a warrant was issued for Bieneman’s arrest on Dec. 12.
The professor wrote that Bieneman was finally replaced in camp on December 19th. He said they were never told that Bieneman was under investigation or given a reason why he was removed from his assignment. They pieced it together later when the case became public.
“We were stunned to discover that (1) Tyler was assigned to our team when it was already known that he was under investigation and (2) that he remained with us for an entire week after being charged with assault had been. “Conway wrote in the complaint.
The NSF said questions about Bieneman’s camp assignment are part of an active law enforcement matter 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 documents, when Bieneman returned to McMurdo after the camp, he was released, given a plane ticket back to the United States and was arrested upon landing in Hawaii. He was subsequently released on $25,000 bail pending Monday’s trial.
AP researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York contributed to this report.