A man accused of assaulting a woman at the US research station in Antarctica pulled out tissues and cried in court after jurors found him not guilty.
A federal jury on Wednesday found Stephen Tyler Bieneman not guilty of assaulting a woman at McMurdo Station in Antarctica, in a case that drew attention amid a flood of reports of sexual harassment and assault.
Bieneman pulled tissues from a box on the defense table and cried as each juror was questioned and said they had found him not guilty of assault in connection with an incident last November at McMurdo Station.
Jurors deliberated for more than an hour after Bieneman testified that he did not initiate the incident and did not harm the woman.
Bieneman was accused of kneeling on a female colleague’s neck until she could no longer breathe after stealing his name tag as a prank last November.
Stephen Tyler Bieneman walks out of a U.S. courthouse after the first day of his trial in Honolulu on November 6, 2023
Stephen Tyler Bieneman, right, stands outside the federal courthouse, Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Mengshin Lin)
The National Science Foundation published a report in 2022 showing that 59% of women said they had experienced harassment or assault while stationed in Antarctica, and 72% of women said such behavior was a problem at the bases.
But despite the accusation and subsequent investigation, he was given a security post on a remote ice field and remained there for a week after a warrant was issued for his arrest.
The professor he was placed with told AP that “it was uncomfortable and stressful to be around him because it was not possible to feel physically or emotionally safe.”
Bieneman said outside court that he was surprised by the professor’s complaint. “I thought I had a good relationship with them,” he said. “I felt like I was keeping them safe and working hard.”
The case came just weeks after investigators were sent to Antarctica as AP published a chilling report showing that more than half of women working at US bases on the continent had experienced sexual violence.
“It has taken a huge toll on my reputation,” Bieneman said outside the courtroom. “This proves him right,” said his lawyer, Birney Bervar.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mohammad Khatib told jurors this week in U.S. District Court in Honolulu that Bieneman sat on top of the woman after she jokingly removed his name tag from his jacket. The prosecutor said Bieneman held her down and put his shin across her throat, preventing her from breathing.
In his closing arguments Wednesday, Khatib said Bieneman could have seriously injured or killed the woman.
The isolated community was exposed by an AP investigation that revealed dramatic rates of sexual violence and harassment — among other claims that women’s protests were not taken seriously
The research was inspired by a Maine marine diesel mechanic who confessed to carrying a hammer in her sports bra to protect herself because she was crippled with fear that she would be sexually assaulted or killed (photo by Liz Monahon – the mechanic)
Bieneman, a field safety coordinator trained in conducting search and rescue, testified that the woman “got right in my face” when he returned to a dorm room after celebrating his birthday and Thanksgiving with a group.
According to his testimony, she cursed him and was angry that she had not been invited to the meeting.
At one point he left the lounge to return a key to a cabin he was using for the party. When he returned, he saw that one of the alcoholic seltzers he had left behind was open.
He said he asked the woman if she had taken it, and she said she had also taken 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 for it.’
He said she grabbed his arms and fell on her back while holding him.
“She used all her power against me to keep me from getting my name tag back,” he testified.
Bieneman denied putting his shin on her neck.
“Not only did I not attack her, I went out of my way not to hurt her,” he said.
Dr. Christopher Martinez, the doctor who later examined the woman, testified Wednesday that he had expressed doubts that she had been attacked.
An affidavit obtained by DailyMail.com revealed that Stephen Tyler Bieneman – who was a member of a search and rescue team at the US National Science Foundation base in Antarctica – was arrested for placing his shin on a woman’s throat until she couldn’t breathe anymore
FILE – McMurdo Station, a United States research station in Antarctica, is photographed from the air on October 27, 2014. Stephen Tyler Bieneman, accused of attacking a woman at a US research station in Antarctica, testified at his trial on Wednesday, November 8. , 2023, that he never hurt her during a physical altercation in a dorm room last year. Bieneman has pleaded not guilty to assault following the incident at McMurdo Station. (National Science Foundation via AP, file)
A sign is photographed at McMurdo Station, an Antarctic research station in the United States
Under cross-examination by Khatib, the doctor denied that she was downplaying her pain complaints.
The National Science Foundation declined to answer AP’s questions about why Bieneman was sent into the field in a crucial security role during the investigation.
The case raised further questions about decision-making in the US Antarctic Program, which is currently under scrutiny.
Bervar, Bieneman’s lawyer, said after the trial that the investigation unfairly led to his client being charged.
The public prosecutor said he was disappointed by the verdict. “We felt like we had a just cause,” Khatib said.