A former St. Louis County social worker admitted Tuesday to sexually abusing a client in his care.
Michael Clarence Bryant, 47, of Wrenshall, pleaded guilty to a felony count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct at a remote hearing of State District Court in Duluth.
Bryant testified under oath that he engaged in sexual conduct with a woman to whom he had been assigned in the course of his work with the St. Louis County Health and Human Services Department.
Authorities earlier described it as "ongoing sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult," with Bryant coercing sex from the woman both on and off the job and threatening to "take her children away" and "ruin the victim's life" if she told anyone. The conduct reportedly spanned from approximately March 2017 to February 2019.
Bryant acknowledged at Tuesday's hearing that he was responsible for providing psychotherapy services to the woman and that it is a felony to engage in sexual penetration with a patient. Bryant, who has remained out of custody since he was charged in July, appeared by video from home for the plea hearing that was conducted using the Zoom videoconferencing service.
Under the terms of a plea agreement, Bryant is expected to serve up to a year in jail. Attorneys said he also needs to register as a sex offender, but a 57-month prison term would be stayed as long as he meets conditions of probation, which is expected to run five to seven years.
Special prosecutor Dawn O'Rourke agreed to drop a second identical charge in exchange for Bryant's guilty plea. O'Rourke, an assistant Hennepin County attorney, was appointed to the case due to Bryant's work with St. Louis County.
O'Rourke said the victim was consulted and approved of the plea agreement.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Theresa Neo ordered an investigation of Bryant's background ahead of a July 13 sentencing hearing, which she indicated may be held in person if courthouses are able to safely reopen for some normal operations.
According to court documents:
The abuse was first reported to authorities in February 2019. A therapist observed behavior she deemed as "'odd" from Bryant toward the victim, including comments about "how she would wear her hair, nails and makeup."
Bryant had been assigned to the client in early 2017, with the abuse beginning early in their relationship and continuing even after he was removed from her case amid "concerns by other mental health professionals" that he'd crossed boundaries and was behaving inappropriately toward the victim.
The woman told investigators that early touching led to intercourse more than an estimated 50 times, and Bryant would stay at her home for up to three hours during the day. She reported that she took the morning-after pill and believed she was in a consensual relationship that "became forceful."
On at least one occasion, Bryant was alleged to have pushed the victim down, "held her on the floor," and sexually assaulted her.
The victim said Bryant assigned her rules to "always protect him," not putting them in a situation where they could get caught. Bryant would call and text the woman throughout the day, once taking her phone and smashing it because he was concerned that their conversations could be retrieved.
Bryant also was reported to have dictated how the victim's daughter dressed and would go to her school "to make sure she was being obedient."
Bryant had worked at the county since 2001. His employment was severed after the misconduct was reported last year.