Maryland Park Service official charged with raping and sexually assaulting employee at Gunpowder Falls State Park

Michael Browning, 71, helped much younger victim find a job, housing at state park, investigators allege in charging documents

Published on: September 28, 2022 at 10:07 pm EDT

Updated on: October 25, 2022 at 11:56 pm EDT

Michael Browning served as park manager at Gunpowder Falls State Park.

The state parks official charged with repeatedly raping and sexually assaulting a young female employee at Gunpowder Falls State Park met her when she was a teenager participating in a 4-H Club program led by his wife at their Baldwin home, according to Baltimore County police.

The suspect, Michael Browning, 71, later helped the woman get a seasonal ranger job at Gunpowder Falls State Park and the two began a consensual sexual relationship in 2016, according to charging documents filed in Baltimore County District Court. She was in her early 20s at the time, prosecutors said.

As park manager, Browning maintained several residences on park property and helped the woman move into one of these the following year. Browning would show up at the woman’s home several times each day seeking sex “to the point of it being an obsession,” according to the charging documents. He “maintained keys to the victim’s residence and to a metal gate that blocked the entrance, so he had easy access to the property and the victim,” the documents state.

Browning and the woman often had sex four or five times a day, according to the documents. Browning would frequently appear at her home early in the morning before she had gotten out of bed. When the woman would refuse sex, saying “no” and pulling up the bedcovers, Browning would forcibly rape her, according to the documents.

The woman told police that Browning raped her between 10 and 15 times over six years, the documents state. Police said Browning admitted during a secretly taped phone call while the victim was with investigators to committing the rapes.

“You did that so many times, Mike, and I told you no,” the woman said in the call, according to the documents. “I told you no so many times and yet you did it anyway.”

According to the documents, Browning replied: “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Forgive me for that. It will never happen again. I promise you it will never happen again.”

Browning was arrested and charged on Tuesday with second-degree rape and second-degree sexual assault, county police said in a news release Wednesday.

At a Thursday afternoon bail hearing in Baltimore County District Court, Browning’s attorney, Gary Bernstein, said his client “vehemently” disagrees with the charges and said the relationship was consensual. He said the woman is now a law enforcement officer. “To say she is defenseless is a little extreme,” he said.

Bernstein said that the woman traveled to Colorado with Browning two weeks ago and that he recently fed her pet birds for her. He has no prior criminal record.

Browning appeared by video from the county detention center. He was handcuffed and wearing an orange jumpsuit.

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Baltimore County Assistant State’s Attorney Joe Dominick said that an additional victim had come forward. Browning “is a risk to the community,” Dominick said.

A district court judge ordered Browning to be held without bail.

Police said Browning was employed at the time by the Maryland Park Service as park manager for Gunpowder Falls State Park, one of the state’s largest parks, which is located in Baltimore and Harford counties.

Gregg Bortz, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, confirmed Browning’s employment status in an email late Wednesday: “Michael Browning is an employee of the Maryland Park Service. MPS management has been advised by Baltimore County Police on this investigation and arrest and are cooperating fully. We defer any additional comment to the BCPD.”

The Hagerstown Herald-Mail reported in 2019 that Browning was one of two remaining Maryland Park Service rangers who were law enforcement officers. This followed the merging of the park service’s ranger operation with Natural Resources Police in 2005, the newspaper reported. The other ranger has since retired.

Detectives have asked anyone with information about the case or potential victims to contact the county police department’s special victims unit at 410-887-2223.

This story has been updated with details from charging documents and a bail hearing.

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