A federal grand jury has indicted a Maryland man for alleged committing “bias-motivated assaults” on gay men in a Washington D.C. park. Michael Thomas Pruden allegedly went to well-known cruising spots and pretended to be a member of law enforcement, then assaulted men with the intent to do bodily harm, prosecutors say. 

The indictment alleges that on five separate days between 2018 and 2021, Pruden went to Meridian Hill Park, also known as Malcolm X Park, according to a news release from the Department of Justice, informally recognized as a spot where men can seek consensual sexual encounters with other men — a practice is known as cruising. While at the park, Pruden allegedly assaulted at least five men by approaching them with heavy flashlights and protending to be a Park Police officer. Pruden then allegedly gave police-style commands and before spraying victims with a chemical irritant, according to the indictment. 

The indictment claims Pruden committed these alleged assaults because of the victims’ “actual or perceived sexual orientation.” 

The Maryland man was arrested Thursday in Norfolk Virginia and if convicted, faces a maximum sentence of 10 years for each count of assault and a three-year statutory maximum sentence for impersonating a federal officer, at least 53 years in prison. 

Pruden is charged with five counts of assault on federal land, one count of impersonating a federal officer, and a hate crimes sentencing enhancement. 

Anyone who believes they were a victim of Pruden or witness a similar assault in the park is encouraged to call the FBI tip line, 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324).