The former Gunpowder Falls State Park manager currently on trial for rape and assault repeatedly told police that he did not attack one of his alleged victims despite admitting to doing so in a phone call with her that detectives secretly recorded, according to evidence presented at his trial this week and charging documents.
According to video evidence shown in Baltimore County Circuit Court on Friday, Michael Browning told detectives from the Baltimore County Police Department’s Special Victims Unit that he did not rape one of two women who came forward and accused him of that last fall.
Browning, 72, has been in jail since September, when Baltimore County Police arrested him on charges of rape and assault. His police powers were revoked that month, and he left the agency Nov. 30. He was indicted later that month on 27 counts including second-degree sexual assault and second-degree rape.
He admitted to raping one woman during a phone call with her and apologized, after she told police he forced himself upon her 10 to 15 times during their yearslong consensual sexual relationship, according to charging documents.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Forgive me for that. I’ll never do that again,” he said in the phone call.
But in an interview later that day with detectives, he denied raping her, according to a video recording of the interview presented in court Friday.
“That did not happen,” he said, when detectives told him that the woman had asked why he didn’t stop when he raped her. “[I did not have] even the slightest inkling that I hurt her. I know I didn’t rape that girl. No way, shape or form.”
Browning and the woman initially met when she was 11 and she participated in a 4H club run by Browning’s wife. The accuser, who grew up in a conservative religious family and was homeschooled, entered into a sexual relationship with Browning in 2016, after she began working at the park, according to testimony she gave on Thursday.
Browning initially denied being in a sexual relationship with her because he didn’t want to “get her in trouble,” and hurt her budding career, according to testimony in court Friday.
Browning had a secret cellphone provided by the first accuser that they exclusively used to send sexually explicit photos and videos to each other, according to testimony.
Browning also said during the interview that he sometimes observed the two women having sex, during which the first woman asked him to help hold down the other’s arms.
Browning said he was distraught about the rape accusations, which is why he lied in the police interview, according to the video recording.
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The women, who Baltimore County Assistant State’s Attorney Brian Botts said were in a romantic and sexual relationship with each other and in separate sexual relationships with Browning, worked as seasonal employees at Gunpowder Falls and lived in park-owned housing.
The first woman said Browning held keys to her state-sponsored housing and would come over numerous times a day requesting sex, according to charging documents.
As manager, Browning controlled his employees’ careers and access to housing, and used Gunpowder Falls as his “sexual playground,” Botts said in his opening statement on Thursday.
The Baltimore Sun does not name victims of sexual assault.
Other parks service leaders left after Browning’s arrest, including superintendent Nina Settina and regional manager Steve McCoy, and Gunpowder Falls Assistant Manager Dean Hughes, after lawmakers asked for an investigation into the Department of Natural Resources.
Browning denied being in a sexual relationship with the second woman.
His lawyer, Gary Bernstein of Towson, said the two alleged victims had a “horrible, turbulent relationship” with each other and in his opening statement said the first woman was a “manipulative, conniving user and liar” and that the second woman was “pathetic” and a “follower.”