Man indicted in pepper-spray attacks in DC park

A federal grand jury indicted a man accused of attacking people with pepper spray at a D.C. park, and he faces a hate crime sentencing enhancement for the assaults.

Michael Thomas Pruden, 48, formerly of Maryland, is charged with five counts of assault for incidents that happened from 2018 to 2021 in Meridian Hill/Malcolm X Park.

He also faces a hate crimes sentencing enhancement, as prosecutors allege he assaulted “four of the victims because of their perceived sexual orientation,” a U.S. Attorney’s Office District of Columbia news release said.

The park is informally known as a meeting place for men seeking sex with other men.

Authorities said Pruden went to the park and assaulted five men with pepper spray, authorities said. Court documents say he pretended to be a U.S. Park Police officer — shining a flashlight in the victims’ faces and giving them police-style orders.

“The attacks generally happen after dark during hours when the park is technically closed,” a U.S. Park Police spokesperson told WTOP last year.

Pruden, who taught at Prince George’s County schools, was acquitted last year of a similar attack on two people at Daingerfield Island in Alexandria, Virginia. At the time of his arrest for the Virginia attack in May 2021, U.S. Park Police suspected Pruden was linked to the attacks in Meridian Hill Park.

Pruden was arrested Thursday in Norfolk. He faces 10 years for each assault and three years for impersonating a federal officer. The hate crimes sentencing enhancement increases the range of the potential sentence for the assault counts.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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