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Maryland man indicted for allegedly targeting gay men

Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — A Maryland man faces federal hate crime charges for allegedly posing as a federal officer and targeting gay men in a series of attacks at a Washington, D.C., park, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.

Federal prosecutors allege that Michael Thomas Pruden, 48, assaulted five men with a “chemical irritant” at Meridian Hill Park on five separate occasions between 2018 and 2021.

A federal grand jury indicted Pruden last month on five counts of assault on federal land, one count of impersonating a federal officer and a hate crimes sentencing enhancement “alleging that Pruden assaulted four of the victims because of their perceived sexual orientation,” the Justice Department said.

Meridian Hill Park is informally known in the D.C. community as “cruising” spot for gay men, according to the indictment. Pruden allegedly frequented the park at night on multiple occasions and assaulted men “by approaching them with a flashlight, giving police-style commands, and spraying them with a chemical irritant,” the indictment states.

Pruden was arrested on Thursday in Norfolk, Virginia. He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years for each assault count — which could be increased by the hate crimes sentencing enhancement — and a three-year maximum sentence for impersonating a federal officer, the Justice Department said.

Court records do not list any attorney information for the suspect.

Pruden was arrested last year in connection with a similar attack at a federal park in Alexandria, Virginia, in March 2021.

Prosecutors allege that Pruden falsely presented himself as a police officer and sprayed victims with pepper spray at Daingerfield Island, also informally known as a cruising spot for gay men.

Pruden was indicted in a Virginia district court on a charge of assault with a dangerous weapon and acquitted in August 2021.

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