Man Posing as Cop Arrested Over Chemical Attacks at Gay Cruising Spot

Gavel and handcuffs representing arrest of Maryland man in connection to chemical attacks on gay men
Gavel and handcuffs representing arrest of Maryland man in connection to chemical attacks on gay men

A former Maryland teacher was arrested Thursday and charged with a series of chemical attacks on gay men in a Washington, D.C. park. He was arrested in Norfolk, Va.

Prosecutors allege Michael Thomas Pruden, 48, impersonated a Park police officer at Meridian Park, aka Malcolm X Park, after dark on five separate occasions between 2018 and 2021. The park is allegedly a popular cruising spot for queer men, and the indictment claims Pruden specifically targeted these men for his chemical attacks.

“Before spraying the men, Pruden pretended to be a Park Police officer, shined a flashlight in the victims’ faces, and gave the victims police-style directives,” the Department of Justice said in a press release. “The indictment alleges that Pruden assaulted four of the victims because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.”

Pruden had been arrested on similar charges last year in Virginia but was acquitted at trial in a federal court in Alexandria.

In that case, two victims claimed Pruden approached them in the park, identified himself as a police officer, then sprayed them with pepper spray. He also allegedly beat one of the men with a large stick.

One witness who saw the alleged attack told police the stick was “approximately three feet in length, two inches in diameter” and that Pruden yelled “I’ll get you!” at the victims as they tried to escape. The witness also claimed they saw Pruden remove his own blood-stained shirt as he was leaving the scene. A second witness told police they saw a shirtless man matching Pruden’s description leaving the park, getting into a car, and driving off.

A spokesperson for the Prince George’s County Public Schools told local NBC affiliate WRC-TV that Pruden had been employed by the district since 2014, with assignments at Allenwood Elementary School in Camp Springs, Apple Grove Elementary School in Fort Washington, Samuel Chase Elementary School in Temple Hills, and Valley View Elementary School in Oxon Hill.

Pruden faces up to 50 years in a federal penitentiary if convicted on all the assault charges, and an additional three-year statutory maximum sentence for impersonating a federal officer. The hate crimes sentencing enhancement would increase the amount of time served as well.

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