Jury Acquits Man in Notable Antarctic Assault Case at McMurdo Station

Stephen Tyler Bieneman, right.

In a high-profile case, a federal jury has acquitted Stephen Tyler Bieneman of misdemeanor assault charges related to an incident at McMurdo Station, a U.S. research facility in Antarctica. The verdict was reached after 1-1/2 hours of deliberation following a trial in U.S. District Court in Honolulu.

Bieneman, visibly emotional, listened as each juror confirmed their decision of not guilty. He expressed relief outside the courtroom, with his attorney Birney Bervar underscoring the verdict’s significance for his reputation.

The case has drawn attention amid broader concerns about misconduct at McMurdo Station. An Associated Press investigation previously revealed instances of sexual harassment and assault being downplayed by employers at the station. This has led to increased scrutiny by the National Science Foundation’s watchdog office, which is expanding its investigative scope to include crimes like sexual assault and stalking at McMurdo.

During the trial, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mohammad Khatib argued that Bieneman assaulted a woman at the station after she jokingly took his nametag. Khatib contended that Bieneman’s actions, which allegedly included pinning the woman down and placing his shin across her throat, could have resulted in serious injury or death.

Bieneman, a field safety coordinator trained in search and rescue, testified that the woman confronted and cursed at him, leading to a physical altercation over the nametag. He denied assaulting her or placing his shin on her neck, asserting he tried to avoid harming her.

The incident’s aftermath saw Bieneman being assigned to a remote icefield with a professor and graduate students, even as a warrant for his arrest was issued. This decision raised questions about the U.S. Antarctic Program’s handling of personnel under investigation.

The National Science Foundation declined to comment on the specifics of Bieneman’s field assignment. Bervar, his attorney, suggested that heightened scrutiny around McMurdo Station may have influenced the decision to charge his client.

Prosecutor Khatib expressed disappointment with the jury’s verdict, maintaining confidence in the strength of their case. Despite the acquittal, the trial highlights ongoing concerns about safety and decision-making in remote research facilities like McMurdo Station.

Chris Morris
Author: Chris Morris

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