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Man posing as federal officer assaulted gay men in series of attacks at D.C. park, officials say

Michael Thomas Pruden, 48, attacked five men from 2018 to 2021 at Meridian Hill Park in Washington, D.C., the Department of Justice said. He allegedly sprayed them with a chemical irritant.
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People gather in Meridian Hill Park in Washington, D.C., on May 4, 2020. Jahi Chikwendiu / The Washington Post via Getty Images

A Maryland man has been arrested on federal hate crime charges, accused of posing as a U.S. Park Police officer and attacking men he believed to be gay at a Washington D.C., park over a three-year period.

Michael Thomas Pruden, 48, attacked five men on five separate dates from 2018 to 2021 at Meridian Hill Park, also called Malcolm X Park, which is “informally known ... as a meeting place for men seeking consensual sex with other men,” a Department of Justice news release Thursday stated. 

Pruden approached the men pretending to be a Park Police officer, shined a light in their faces and gave “police-style directives,” according to the release. 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, Virginia, on five counts of assault on federal land, one count of impersonating a federal officer and a hate crimes sentencing enhancement.

The charges carry a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years for each assault count and a three-year maximum for impersonating a federal officer. A hate crimes sentencing enhancement increases the potential sentence for the assault counts, the release stated. 

Pruden does not have a lawyer listed in online court records.

He faced trial on a similar attack in Alexandria court last year and was acquitted, court records show. In that case, he was accused of approaching two men on Daingerfield Island in March 2021, identifying himself as a cop and hitting one with pepper spray and stick, The Washington Post said.

Pruden, who worked for Prince George's County Public Schools since 2014, was suspended in 2021, NBC Washington reported. NBC News has reached out to the district for comment on the indictment and Pruden's status with the school system.