Michael Thomas Pruden Maryland man posing as cop pepper spraying gay men along DC’s Meridian Hill Park, charged with hate crime.
A Maryland man is to be indicted with hate crime charges for allegedly pepper spraying up to five men he believed to be gay over a three-year period in a Washington. DC, park, while posing as a police officer, the DOJ said in a release on Thurday.
Michael Thomas Pruden, 48, a former elementary school teacher, is accused of spraying the men with a ‘chemical irritant’ at DC’s Meridian Hill Park, also known as Malcolm X Park, according to the indictment. All three victims were specifically targeted because of their presumed sexuality.
The park is known in the community as a place where men meet seeking consensual sex with other men, the indictment said. It alleges Pruden went there at night — twice while pretending to be a United States Park Police officer — and shined a flashlight in the men’s faces.
The indictment alleges he gave them police-style directives and sprayed them with the irritant. In four of the alleged assaults, the indictment alleges it was because of the victims’ ‘actual or perceived sexual orientation.’
He was arrested on Thursday in Virginia Beach, following a federal grand jury in Washington, DC, indicted him last month on five counts of assault on federal land and two counts of impersonating a federal officer. The assaults allegedly occurred between April 30, 2018, and March 26, 2021.
Michael Thomas Pruden was first linked to the attacks at Meridian Hill Park last year, when multiple victims ID’d him. U.S. Pak Police investigators interviewed them after he was arrested for another assault at Alexandria’s Daingerfeld Island, for which he was acquitted. pic.twitter.com/vip2B7UBGs
— Jordan Fischer (@JordanOnRecord) July 14, 2022
The indictment seeks a hate crimes sentencing enhancement because Pruden allegedly targeted four of the victims because of their perceived sexual orientation.
If convicted, Pruden could face three years in prison for impersonating an officer and 10 years for each assault count, the Department of Justice noted in its news release. But a hate crimes enhancement could increase any assault penalties, it said.
The DOJ is asking people to contact the FBI with information if they were a victim, or witnessed, a similar assault at the park.