A former teacher at the Gilman School who’s accused of victimizing a student and making videos of the sexual abuse can be released on 24/7 home confinement with strict conditions — including one that he is not allowed to access the internet, a judge ruled on Thursday.

In a six-page memo and order, U.S. District Chief Judge James K. Bredar wrote that the charges against Chris Bendann are “indisputably serious” and, though he is presumed to be innocent, “the weight of the evidence against him at this time is significant.”

But Bredar noted Bendann has no criminal record and maintains close ties to the community. He also had a “spotless record” while previously on home detention. And the government, the judge said, had not explained how he would be able to take actions including threatening and intimidating witnesses or deleting evidence under the proposed conditions of release.

“This brings the Court to the fundamental question at hand: has the Government shown, by clear and convincing evidence, that there is no set of conditions that can reasonably assure the Defendant’s appearance and community safety?” Bredar wrote. “It has not.”

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Bredar attached a draft order setting the conditions of release. He has scheduled an additional hearing for Sept. 14.

The conditions include a requirement that Bendann remain on 24/7 lockdown at his father’s home with location monitoring. Bendann would only be able to leave to go to court, meet with his attorney, seek medical attention and attend a religious service no more than once per week. He must always be in the “immediate company” of his father and avoid all contact with those who are or were students at the Gilman School.

Plus, Bendann “shall be isolated from the internet and any device capable of electronic communication” to “the extent reasonably possible.” Internet access to his father’s home must be cut off except to maintain functions such as the air conditioning and burglary alarm.

Bendann, 39, now of Baltimore, is charged in U.S. District Court in Baltimore with five counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and one count of possession of child pornography. Federal prosecutors allege that he had five sexually explicit videos of a young man on his iCloud account and tried to delete them.

U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Mark Coulson previously ordered Bendann to be detained until trial.

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During a hearing Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Colleen McGuinn argued, “The government’s position is, in fact, the defendant is a danger to the community.”

McGuinn noted the charges carry a presumption that Bendann should be detained.

Bendann, she said, violated his position of trust as a teacher at the Gilman School. Though Bendann might comply with a court order to stay in the house, McGuinn expressed a concern that he could access the internet and intimidate witnesses.

Bredar pressed her about whether that worry could be “reasonably mitigated.” He suggested that law enforcement could conduct a sweep of the home to make sure that there were no devices that can connect to the internet.

“Is there any evidence in this record,” Bredar asked, “of the defendant violating a court directive?”

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“There is no evidence that he violated a court directive,” McGuinn replied, “no.”

Meanwhile, Kobie Flowers, Bendann’s attorney, said his client perfectly complied with the conditions of home detention for six months in the past.

Bendann had previously been charged in Baltimore County Circuit Court with sexual abuse of a minor and related offenses, but prosecutors dropped that case not long after he was federally indicted.

“For six months, there was absolutely no problem,” Flowers said. “He’s been a danger to no one.”

Flowers contended that cutting off his client’s access to the internet was more onerous than necessary but agreed that condition would be preferable to incarceration.

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Later, McGuinn said investigators are continuing to search 18 electronic devices as well as the iCloud account, which contains thousands of images. She stated that she could not definitively say but “would not be surprised” if prosecutors sought a superseding indictment.

Steven Silverman, an attorney who’s representing young men who report that Bendann sexually abused them, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Chris Bendann, 39, exits the Baltimore County Courthouse in Towson with his legal team after a hearing on Tuesday, July 18, 2023. The former Gilman School teacher is accused of sexually abusing a student between 2016 and 2019, and was indicted on 16 counts including sexual abuse of a minor, rape and related offenses.
In this photo from July 18, 2023, Chris Bendann, 39, of Baltimore, leaves the Baltimore County Courts Building in Towson with his legal team. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

From the start, Bendann has maintained his innocence.

In a post on Facebook and Instagram in June, Bendann wrote that he wanted his family members and friends to know that the allegations against him were false.

“Unfortunately, I am now one of the 3,337 people who have been wrongly accused in this great country since 1989,” Bendann said. “Like those people, I expect that, in the end, the truth will show that I am innocent.”

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Later, in August, Bendann and Flowers held a news conference on the steps of the Baltimore County Courts Building.

If convicted, Bendann faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison on each count of sexual exploitation of a minor.

dylan.segelbaum@thebaltimorebanner.com

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