A state parks official has resigned as president of the Maryland Rangers Association following accusations that he harassed a fellow employee at Gunpowder Falls State Park, where he was assistant park manager.
Dean Hughes stepped down as the association’s president after “an open and reflective conversation” with the group’s vice president, Christopher Grieco, according to an email that Grieco sent rangers and associates Friday.
Hughes had “officially resigned from his elected position in a manner befitting the Office of the President, with grace and expressed pride for the organization he served,” Grieco said.
Grieco will serve as acting president of the association, a position Hughes had held since 2019.
On Tuesday, The Baltimore Banner published an investigation that revealed a toxic culture of bullying and intimidation at Gunpowder Falls under manager Michael J. Browning, who was arrested late last month and charged with raping a former employee. A Baltimore County grand jury on Monday indicted Browning on charges of raping and sexually assaulting that woman, as well as another woman who had worked as a seasonal worker at the park. Browning has denied the charges through his attorney.
The Baltimore Banner does not identify victims of alleged sexual assault unless they choose to reveal their names.
Former Gunpowder employees told The Banner that Browning, a ranger who had a badge and a gun, retaliated against those who challenged his methods by taking away their park housing and state-issued vehicles and assigning them unpleasant and demeaning tasks.
Interviews with former employees and documents reviewed by The Banner also revealed that Hughes was accused of harassing a female ranger after she ended a consensual relationship with him. He confronted her repeatedly, former employees said, and in one instance, cornered her and screamed profanities.
When the woman complained, she, her direct supervisor and her friend all became targets of Browning’s ire, according to interviews and documents. All three women ultimately left the park service.
Several former park employees said Hughes continued to have problems with women. They said he had relationships with several seasonal employees, a potential violation of state policy, and that nothing was done when complaints were filed against him.
By Tuesday afternoon, Hughes had been placed on leave from his position as the park’s assistant manager “until further notice,” according to an email sent to Gunpowder employees by Philip R. Hager, an official with the state Department of Natural Resources.
Reached for comment last week about the swirling accusations, Hughes referred all questions to the DNR communications team; spokesman Gregg Bortz declined to comment.
“DNR Human Resource Services continues to investigate issues that have been raised and encourages any employee or other individuals to come forward with additional information,” Bortz wrote in an email last week.
Also last week, Hughes had advised members of the association’s board that he would not seek reelection as president, citing “challenges that are easily the most significant, complex, and of the highest magnitude of any that I have ever faced in my life.” He said he needed to pass the torch and “focus my time, attention, heart, and soul on the issues here at home.”
On Wednesday, Grieco told rangers and associates in an email that the association’s board members were aware that Hughes’ had been “temporarily relieved” of his duties as Gunpowder’s assistant manager pending an internal investigation.
“In light of these serious allegations, the Maryland Rangers Association board members recommend that a ‘Yes/No’ Emergency Ballot be conducted to remove Ranger Dean Hughes from the office of President of the MRA, while also precluding him from serving on the Board as Past President until the pending investigation is complete,” Grieco wrote, adding that the vote required members to “temporarily suspend the current bylaws to exclusively allow” for the ballot.
Active members and active retired members were asked to vote by 4 p.m. Friday.
With the news of Hughes’ resignation, the vote is off, Grieco wrote in his most recent email, and votes cast “will not officially be tallied nor will they be shared.”