The former longtime manager of Gunpowder Falls State Park was involved in “a separate consensual sexual relationship” with each of the two former employees who have accused him of rape, both of whom were living in houses on park property at the time they say the assaults occurred, according to court records.

Both women are now Baltimore County Police officers, according to filings in the rape case against Michael J. Browning, whose trial began Tuesday in Baltimore County Circuit Court. Browning’s defense attorney described the relationships with both women as “consensual” in the papers he filed; prosecutors did not include that language in their questions.

Attorneys spent Tuesday questioning potential jurors at the American Legion Hall in Towson, where jury selection has taken place since the start of the pandemic. Judge Wendy S. Epstein said jury selection would resume Wednesday morning, which means the earliest that testimony could begin is Wednesday afternoon.

Browning, 72, the former Gunpowder manager, appeared in the American Legion Hall in orange scrubs. He appeared to have lost weight since his arrest last September and his hair had grown longer.

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Michael Browning served as park manager at Gunpowder Falls State Park.
Michael Browning, who served as park manager at Gunpowder Falls State Park from 1991 until late last year, has been charged with raping two former employees. He has denied the charges. His trial in Baltimore County began on March 28, 2023. (Baltimore County police)

Browning’s attorney, Gary Bernstein, and Baltimore County Assistant State’s Attorney Brian D. Botts spoke with potential jurors privately in the kitchen of the social hall. The questions they asked potential jurors, or voir dire, provided the first public acknowledgment that both accusers are now Baltimore County Police officers and that the second woman to accuse him of rape also had lived in a house in the park. The Banner previously reported that the first accuser rented a house in the park.

The questions were added to Browning’s case file in the courthouse. Attorneys warned potential jurors Tuesday that the trial could last as long as seven days.

Browning had managed Gunpowder Falls, Maryland’s largest state park, since 1991 — before either alleged victim was born. He was arrested by Baltimore County Police in late September on charges that he had repeatedly raped a young woman employee after hiring her, moving her into a state-owned home and beginning a consensual relationship with her. A few weeks later, a grand jury indicted Browning on 27 counts related to the alleged rape of that woman and of the second worker, a seasonal employee.

Browning, who retired after being suspended, has denied the charges. His attorney previously said Browning and the first accuser had a consensual relationship and that Browning had had no sexual contact with the second woman. He alleged that the second woman made up the allegations to support the first accuser.

The Banner does not reveal the names of victims of sexual assault unless they elect to be publicly identified.

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According to police, Browning met the first woman when she was a teenager taking part in a 4-H program run by his wife in their state-owned home in the Sweet Air section of the park in northern Baltimore County. Browning is the lone holdover from a time in which all park rangers were law enforcement officers and carried a state-issued badge and gun.

Browning hired the woman to work at the park when she was in her early 20s and moved her into another state-owned home within the park, in the Days Cove area near White Marsh. The home sits at the end of a long road where two landfills are located and is surrounded by water, marshlands and woods; the next nearest residence is more than three miles away.

Browning carried keys to both a gate blocking the path to the house and the house. He would often arrive at the home before the employee had awakened and demand sex, according to police, requesting sex from the woman as often as four or five times a day to the point of it being an “obsession.” When the woman said no, he would forcibly rape her, police alleged in court documents. This happened about 10 to 15 times over the course of the six-year relationship, according to the documents.

Following the initial charges, The Baltimore Banner spoke with 15 current and former state parks employees and reviewed eight complaints Gunpowder workers had sent to high-ranking state parks officials in 2015.

The interviews and documents paint a picture of a park rife with bullying, intimidation and harassment, both by Browning and his then-assistant manager. Gunpowder workers who brought their concerns to officials in state park headquarters said that not only did Browning and the assistant not seem to face consequences for their actions, but managers appeared to retaliate against them for complaining.

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Following publication of the investigation, three state parks employees were fired: Gunpowder’s assistant manager, the regional supervisor who oversaw Browning, and the superintendent of the entire state park system.