A man allegedly pretended to be a police officer so that he could order gay and bi men around at a park and then spray them with a chemical according to the Justice Department.
A federal grand jury has indicted Michael Thomas Pruden, 48, of Virginia with five counts of assault on federal land, one count of impersonating a federal officer and a hate crimes sentencing harassment due to alleged anti-gay bias.
Federal prosecutors believe that Pruden went to Meridian Hill Park in D.C. at night to find men who were cruising other men. He pretended be a Park Police officer and shined a flashlight in the faces of his victims and barked “police style directives” at them before spraying at least five of them with a chemical irritant. The Justice Department hasn’t said what that chemical irritant was.
The indictment says that Pruden attacked four of his victims because of their real or perceived sexual orientation.
He could get up to 10 years in jail for each assault charge and three years for impersonating a federal officer. The sentence could be even longer if the hate crimes enhancement is applied.
The New York Times attempted to contact Pruden and reports that an unidentified woman picked up the phone and said Pruden was innocent. She did not say if he had a lawyer.
This isn’t the first time Pruden has been accused of impersonating an officer in order to attack people. He was acquitted by a jury last year in a case where prosecutors said he pepper-sprayed two men and hit one of them in the head with a stick after he shouted “I’m a cop” at them and pretended to talk into a police radio.