A Maryland man has been arrested on a federal hate crime charge, accused of impersonating a US Park Police officer and attacking men he believed to be gay in a Washington DC park over a three-year period year.
Michael Thomas Pruden, 48, attacked five men on five separate dates from 2018 to 2021 at Meridian Hill Park, also known as Malcolm X Park, which is “unofficially known … as a meeting place for men seeking consensual sex with other men”. a Justice Department press release said Thursday.
Pruden approached the men claiming to be a park police officer, flashed a light in their faces and gave “cop-style directions,” according to the statement. He then sprayed the men with a chemical irritant, prosecutors said.
Four of the victims were assaulted because of their “actual or perceived sexual orientation”, according to the indictment.
Pruden was arrested Thursday in Norfolk, Va., on five counts of assault on federal land, one count of impersonating a federal officer and an enhanced sentence for hate crimes.
The charges carry a maximum statutory sentence of 10 years for each count of assault and a maximum of three years for impersonating a federal officer. A sentencing enhancement for hate crimes increases the potential sentence for assault counts, the statement said.
Pruden does not have a lawyer listed in online court records.
He was tried for a similar attack in court in Alexandria last year and was acquitted, according to court records. In that case, he was accused of approaching two men on the island of Daingerfield in March 2021, identifying himself as a cop and hitting one with a pepper shaker and a stick, the Washington Post said.
Pruden, who had worked for Prince George’s County Public Schools since 2014, was suspended in 2021, NBC Washington reported. NBC News reached out to the district for comment on the indictment and Pruden’s status in the school system.