A former Maryland teacher has been arrested for allegedly assaulting men he believed were gay in a park in DC.
Michael Thomas Pruden, 48, sprayed the men with a “chemical irritant” according to authorities. Some news reports say it was pepper-spray.
The attacks, on five men, happened between April 2018 and March 2021 in Meridian Hill Park, aka Malcolm X Park. The park is a known cruising site for men after dark.
On two of the occasions, Pruden, who was formerly a fourth-grade teacher at an elementary school, pretended to be a United States Park Police officer. He gave police-style directives and shined a flashlight in the faces of the men, before spraying them.
He was arrested yesterday by the FBI in Norfolk, Virginia.
According to an indictment, Pruden’s been charged “with 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 Department of Justice wants anyone who may have witnessed an attack in the park, or who may have been the victim of a similar attack, to contact the FBI tipline on 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324).
Pruden faces a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years for each assault count and a three-year statutory maximum sentence for impersonating a federal officer. The hate crimes enhancement could see extra time added on the assault charges, if he is found guilty.