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Details of violent prison incident not shared with parole board before convicted rapist’s release

Jul 11, 2023, 10:08 PM | Updated: 10:38 pm

DRAPER, Utah – Court documents describe a violent scene captured by prison surveillance cameras: Christopher Browning, now 44, is reportedly seen charging, stomping, and punching other inmates, less than seven months before his release on parole.

The incident happened in May 2022, according to the charging documents, but the case was not filed with Salt Lake County’s Third District Court until last month, more than a year later.

Christopher Browning, now 44, is reportedly seen charging, stomping, and punching other inmates, less than seven months before his release on parole.

Utah’s Board of Pardons and Parole decided to release Browning in December 2022. The following month, he’s accused of brutally attacking and raping a 72-year-old Taylorsville woman.

Utah’s Department of Corrections confirmed to the KSL Investigators it failed to provide details about the assault case to the parole board, which could have kept Browning behind bars.

Violence and Violations

Browning spent more than two decades in Utah’s State Prison for breaking into a woman’s home and raping her in 1998. The KSL Investigators previously reported detectives learned Browning was also convicted of raping a 40-year-old woman in Guam when he was 14. Browning also disclosed additional sexual assaults to the parole board in 2018 that were never charged.

Additionally, Browning’s time in prison was punctuated by violence and violations.

During his last parole hearing in 2022, the hearing officer noted that Browning had assaulted a guard in 2021 and had been involved in another assault in May 2022. The hearing officer indicated he didn’t know much about what happened during the May incident, and asked Browning to elaborate.

“It looks like that there was some kind of assault that happened there,” the hearing officer can be heard saying in an audio recording of the hearing. “Was it gang-related or was it just something else?”

Browning said an inmate had commented about his sister, and he couldn’t handle his emotions.

“I lost it,” Browning said.

He told the officer, “I got kicked out of Promontory for this last assault. But it let me see how bad my anger is. It let me see that I do still have an anger problem that I need to address.”

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‘Yet he was released.’

Browning was released on Dec. 6, 2022, after serving 24 years of five years to a life sentence.

In a statement to KSL, the parole board noted that Browning was kept in prison 18 years past the release date that was recommended by Utah’s sentencing guidelines.

Less than 45 days after his parole, Susan, who asked that KSL not use her last name, reported to police that Browning attacked and raped her in her home.

“It was very brutal, very cruel,” she said. “It was terrifying.”

Susan told Taylorsville Police that she’d befriended Browning, through her volunteer work as a prisoner advocate.

“He’d gotten in four or five fights with fellow inmates, couple of guards,” Susan told the KSL Investigators. “So, it was no big mystery that he had antisocial tendencies. And yet he was released.”

She said Browning came to her home to meet her for the first time in person, and while there, he learned there was a warrant out for his arrest for a parole violation.

“The first thing he said is, ‘Well, since I’m going back to prison, I’m going to make it worth my while,'” Susan told the KSL Investigators.

Charging documents reveal Susan told police Browning strangled her to the point that she believes she passed out, strangled one of her cats and threw another against the wall, raped her, forced her to shower, and then held her at knifepoint and threatened her life and her son’s life. Eventually, she said he took her phone and left.

Browning now faces several new felony charges in the case involving Susan, including aggravated sexual assault. He has pleaded not guilty.

Assault Charges Delayed

Last month, Salt Lake County prosecutors filed a new case against Browning – four felony counts of assault by a prisoner.

According to the charging documents, Christopher Browning is seen in prison surveillance footage charging two inmates, knocking one unconscious before punching and stomping on the other, punching a third inmate who tried to intervene, then walking toward a fourth inmate and punching him in the face.

The KSL Investigators asked both prosecutors and prison officials why the case wasn’t filed until more than a year after the incident.

“I think we have to remember that this, these aren’t the only cases the DA’s Office is prosecuting. It’s not the only cases investigators are investigating,” said Tyler Johnson, Utah Department of Corrections Law Enforcement Bureau Chief.

Johnson blames both workflow and technical issues for the delay. He said the bureau tried to submit the case to prosecutors in July 2022, but the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office had switched to a new case management system, and they experienced a technical difficulty. He said the case wasn’t submitted until November, and after that, there were additional challenges uploading case documents.

“There’s this workflow loop, right, you follow up on your case, and then you move on to others, and then you get back to it,” he explained. “So, you know, just that time between those follow-ups to see if they got the information they needed, finding out they didn’t, and then re-attempting, probably caused some of that delay.”

In a statement provided to the KSL Investigators, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said before switching to a new case management system, his office reached out to all law enforcement agencies with written instructions on how to properly submit cases and provided in-person training opportunities.

“This case was properly uploaded in June of 2023, and within six days, we screened and filed the case,” Gill said.

Additionally, Gill’s statement noted that a user guide, training video, and IT support services were available, and other Department of Corrections cases were properly uploaded and screened during the same time period that Browning’s case was delayed.

“Case in point, when the proper protocol was followed, there were cases not only from this agency but also this particular agent that were properly uploaded in early and mid-October of last year,” Gill’s statement read.

Communication Breakdown

During those months of delays, Johnson said corrections officials failed to notify the parole board about the investigation and the pending case before Browning was released.

“It was a communication breakdown,” Johnson said.

Per the protocol at the time, Johnson said a special memo was drafted to send to the board, but a supervisor sent it back to the agent for corrections and it was not re-submitted or provided to the parole board prior to Browning’s release.

When asked whether the information in that memo could have changed the board’s decision in Browning’s case, Johnson said, “It’s always possible.”

“I don’t want to speculate on what decision they would have made,” he said. “But typically, they could, you know, rescind his parole date, push it out farther, it may not have affected it at all … it’s hard to say.”

Johnson said the Department of Corrections changed its policy in February. Now, any time the agency’s law enforcement bureau opens an investigation, the Board of Pardons and Parole must be notified within two business days.

This report is part of a series examining how apparent gaps at every level of Utah’s criminal justice system fail to protect Utahns.

If you have experienced sexual violence, you can access help and resources by calling Utah’s 24-hour Sexual Violence Helpline at 1-888-421-1100. You can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 for free, confidential counseling.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

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Details of violent prison incident not shared with parole board before convicted rapist’s release