NIOTA (WATE) – An assistant pastor at a church in Roane County was arrested at his home in McMinn County Thursday on charges he sexually abused and/or raped several girls at the church.
Hugh McDowell, 62, of Niota, is facing six felony charges, including two counts of sexual battery by an authority figure, two counts of continuous sexual abuse of a child and one count of rape of a child.
According to a report from the Roane County Sheriff’s Office, the investigation began in late June when a Department of Children’s Services investigator told the Roane County Sheriff’s Office of several alleged incidents at Spoken Words Ministry Church in Ten Mile. The investigator said two victims, ages 17 and 12, had been subjected to sexual assault by McDowell, an assistant pastor at the church.
The investigator said the last alleged incident was on June 21 and the family had confronted McDowell over the accusations, but he threatened their lives. The investigator said the family believed McDowell would hurt them if the allegations came out and he has a lot of influence in McMinn County where both families live. McDowell was a first responder in Sweetwater and a former law enforcement officer.
There were also other alleged incidents that had happened at McDowell’s home.
A few days later, a sheriff’s office investigator met with the parents and said McDowell had told the 12-year-old at the church to ask him to see his genitals and touch him inappropriately. They also said he had touched the 17-year-old’s breasts. Deputies told the parents to have the children checked out at Children’s Hospital and contact the district attorney’s office.
Interviews were conducted in July with both girls who confirmed what their parents had said and went on to describe, in great detail, other incidents of alleged sexual assault and sexual abuse, including touching, kissing and at least once incident of digital penetration. Some of the incidents took place at the church. Investigators believed at the time the girls could not have fabricated the events in such detail and were likely telling the truth.
McDowell was interviewed on July 21 and said he knew the family and the two girls, but denied a relationship with him. The report says he initially denied he had ever touched the girls, but later admitted to hugging and kissing them. He then said he wanted an attorney and the interview ended.
One of the girls then admitted she and McDowell had been calling and texting each other for a year. She said he had been asking her for nude photographs and had also purchased a piece of red lingerie for her to wear and photograph herself in. Her phone was broken and officers were not successful in retrieving any text messages from it, but they requested records from both her and McDowell’s phones from Verizon.
While several months worth of data was missing from the report, the logs showed nearly 1,100 phone calls between McDowell and the girl between January 2015 and June 2016. There were also 6,000 text messages back and forth, the content of which was not available.
The case was sent to the District Attorney General’s Office to be presented to the grand jury. McDowell was taken into custody on Thursday in McMinn County and transferred to Roane County.