Gay men targeted in Meridian Hill Park by fake cop, prosecutors say


A former Prince George’s County elementary school teacher was arrested Thursday and charged with assaulting men in a DC park with chemical sprays between 2018 and 2021.

Prosecutors say Michael Thomas Pruden, 48, pretended to be a park police officer five times when he entered Meridian Hill Park after dark and approached men in what is known as a meeting place for sex. According to court records, he told them the park was closed and they had to leave, then assaulted them with pepper spray.

The indictment in DC federal court charges him with five counts of assault on federal land and one count of impersonating a federal officer. A sentencing enhancement for hate crimes alleges that four of the victims were targeted because of their perceived sexual orientation.

Pruden was acquitted by a jury of a similar attack in federal court in Alexandria last year. In that case, prosecutors said two men were walking on Daingerfield Island on the afternoon of March 21, 2021, when Pruden, according to prosecutors, approached, identified himself as a police officer, then attacked a man with pepper spray and a baton while uttering “an anti-gay slur. At trial, prosecutors were not allowed to reference DC’s attacks.

A defense attorney complained to the Washington Blade in 2019 that plainclothes police were soliciting men for sex in Meridian Hill Park and then arresting them in undercover operations.

“The United States Park Police are receiving complaints about lewd acts occurring at Meridian Hill,” a public information officer told the newspaper. “As with any other complaint of illegal activity, we then take action to stop it.”

After his arrest last year, a spokeswoman for Prince George’s County Public Schools said Pruden had been teaching in the system since 2014 when he was suspended.

He was arrested in Norfolk on Thursday, according to court records.


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