A federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Michael Thomas Pruden, 48, 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. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves for the District of Columbia and Assistant Director in Charge Steven M. D’Antuono for the FBI Washington Field Office made the announcement.
The indictment alleges that on five separate dates from 2018 to 2021, Pruden went after dark to Meridian Hill Park, aka Malcolm X Park, which is informally known in the Washington, D.C. community as a meeting place for men seeking consensual sex with other men, and assaulted five men with a chemical irritant. 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 indictment alleges that Pruden assaulted four of the victims because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.
Pruden was arrested today in Norfolk, Virginia. 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 sentencing enhancement increases the range of the potential sentence for the assault counts.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Park Police and the FBI Washington Field Office, and is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Rebekah J. Bailey of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Risa Berkower for the District of Columbia.
If you believe that you were a victim of, or witnessed, a similar assault in Meridian Hill Park, please call the FBI tip line, 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324).
For more information and resources about the department’s work to combat hate crimes, visit www.justice.gov/hatecrimes.
An indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.