Maryland man arrested after allegedly assaulting men he believed were gay in a Washington, DC, park

A Maryland man was arrested Thursday for allegedly assaulting men he believed were gay over a three-year period in a Washington, DC, park, officials said.

Michael Thomas Pruden, 48, 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.
      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.”
          According to the arrest warrant, the FBI arrested Pruden in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
          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, according to the indictment. The assaults allegedly occurred between April 30, 2018, and March 26, 2021.
          The indictment seeks a hate crimes sentencing enhancement because Pruden allegedly targeted four of the victims because of their perceived sexual orientation.
          Court records do not provide attorney information for Pruden, and CNN is attempting to determine whether he has legal representation.
            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.

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