San Jose pastor facing child sex abuse charges can post reduced bail
The River Church Community is pictured in this file photo.

A judge on Friday allowed a prominent Silicon Valley leader and former pastor to post bail at a reduced amount after he was arrested and charged with six felony counts of child sex abuse.

Prosecutors asked Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Hector Ramon to keep former River Church youth ministry leader Brett Bymaster in jail, arguing he posed a flight risk and threat to public safety. Ramon disagreed, reducing Bymaster’s bail to $50,000 at a hearing at the main courthouse in San Jose after it was originally set at $400,000. Bymaster’s defense attorneys, Renee Hessling and Dana Fite, argued Bymaster had a history of serving the community and that his release would not pose a safety risk.

Mug shot of former pastor Brett Bymaster, who was arrested on child sex abuse charges.

The judge also ordered Bymaster to stay away from anyone under age 18 other than his child.

Bymaster is scheduled to enter a plea on June 25.

“Brett does not pose a safety risk because frankly, he’s innocent of these charges,” Fite told San José Spotlight after the hearing.

Bymaster faces time behind bars for alleged lewd acts with a child who was as young as eight during his time at The River Church, according to charges by county prosecutors. He was arrested and booked at the Elmwood Correctional Facility last Thursday. The judge initially revoked his eligibility for bail at least until today’s hearing. San José Spotlight first reported Bymaster’s alleged abuse and a series of investigations by church leaders into his conduct in January.

“We are deeply saddened by these developments and continue to express our concerns, prayers, and support for the young people who have bravely raised their voices, for all victims of abuse, and for our entire church community during these distressing times,” the River Church’s Interim Board Chair Cameron Ashizawa previously told San José Spotlight.

Ashizawa said investigators looked into allegations after the release of the church’s open letters in January 2024 announcing the launch of a third party investigation by sexual abuse investigator Amy Stier. Ashizawa said this parallel investigation continues.

Bymaster is prohibited from contacting the victim documented in the charges. He was also ordered not to contact another unnamed individual, according to the case’s prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Christopher Paynter.

It’s unclear how much jail time Bymaster faces if found guilty of all charges. The trial date is a moving target because the case is an ongoing investigation, Paynter said.

The arrest comes after a second investigation by The River Church in three years regarding Bymaster’s actions. Five parishioner families say a 2021 probe led by church leaders failed to uncover the extent of his abuse and excluded one of the most serious claims — sexual abuse.

At the time, Bymaster denied the allegations in a statement to San José Spotlight.

“In recent months, we have discovered that there were profound flaws in the original pastoral inquiry process and in the denominational report (which was never released publicly but only summarized by senior leaders),” church families wrote in an open letter in January. “We now believe that the inquiry process and the senior leadership withheld crucial information about the nature and scope of the abuse.”

Bymaster, a recognizable figure in advocacy and political circles, was the founder and executive director of the Healing Grove Health Center, a clinic that serves low-income families.

Bymaster served as a youth pastor and director at The River, nestled on Lincoln Avenue, for five years beginning in 2014. He quit after getting a critical job review in August 2019 based on complaints about his leadership from church families.

Yet two years later, youth from the congregation raised more significant concerns about Bymaster.

The church launched an internal inquiry in 2021 led by Rev. Theresa Marks, who found that Bymaster was a “toxic leader who was spiritually abusive,” and encouraged church leaders to summarize her findings in a letter. The probe from Marks, which included interviews with 25 individuals, also questioned the church’s management of Bymaster.

A graduate of Purdue University, Bymaster studied computer engineering and worked for 15 years designing chips for medical equipment in Silicon Valley startups. He earned several patents for his inventions.

Once out of the tech sector, Bymaster got involved with social advocacy for vulnerable families.

In 2021, around the time he was being investigated by Marks, he rallied city leaders to fix a decaying park in a vulnerable neighborhood, spoke up for businesses facing displacement and advocated for closing Reid-Hillview Airport amid concerns about lead poisoning. He spoke at a city meeting that year about a proposal to give San Jose’s mayor more governing power under a strong mayor structure.

Contact Brandon Pho at [email protected] or @brandonphooo on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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