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Crime

Retired Cook Children’s Chaplain Gets 60 Years for Child Pornography

Investigators found videos and images of 71-year-old Michael Downs sexually abusing a teenage victim.
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A retired Cook Children’s Health Care System chaplain who recorded himself sexually abusing a minor has been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District announced today.

Michael Downs, 71, was charged in March after a 17-year-old minor told her aunt he had abused her and recorded the episode on his iPad. When the victim’s family confronted Downs, he left his home with his iPad, and the family called the Fort Worth Police Department. An officer found Downs at Benbrook Lake southwest of Fort Worth. Witnesses told police he jumped in the lake (in January), swam about 100 yards out from the shore, and returned to the bank.

Court documents say police believe he was disposing of his iPad and another iPhone. But other evidence remained at his home. Downs’ wife later provided investigators with several electronic devices, and investigators found a hard drive with numerous videos and photos of Downs engaging in sexually explicit conduct with the victim.

According to court documents, one of the clips found on the hard drive given to authorities by Downs’ wife was 56 minutes long and showed Downs and the then 15-year-old victim lying naked and performing oral sex on each other. The victim told investigators that Downs had been abusing her since she was 10 years old. The Fort Worth Police Department and Homeland Security Investigations conducted the investigation.

“This is an incredibly important case involving shocking and abhorrent conduct,” said U.S. Attorney Leigha Simonton. “Let this be a message to others who seek to prey on children in this way: We will do everything in our power to incapacitate you by locking you away in prison for as long as possible.”

Cook Children’s confirmed that Downs worked as a chaplain for the hospital for about 25 years, from 1997 to 2022. Two videos depicting abuse found on the hard drive were from 2020 and 2021. Cook Children’s responded to an inquiry about Downs with the following statement.

“Cook Children’s is committed to acting responsibly on behalf of our patients, families, visitors and employees. We are appalled, shocked and deeply saddened by the heinous crimes committed by Michael Downs. Downs was employed by Cook Children’s from November 1997 until February 2022. Throughout this investigation, we have fully cooperated with law enforcement. We are grateful for their impeccable work ensuring he will not be able to hurt another innocent child. We did not find any evidence that Downs was engaged in any wrongdoing or inappropriate behavior with our patients. However, we strongly encourage anyone who may be concerned that their child suffered sexual abuse by Downs or anyone else to immediately contact law enforcement.”

In addition to the 60 years in federal prison, the judge ordered a lifetime of supervised release.

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Will Maddox

Will Maddox

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Will is the senior writer for D CEO magazine and the editor of D CEO Healthcare. He's written about healthcare…
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