Homophobe posed as police officer to attack gay men in popular ‘cruising spot’, prosecutors say

Man posing as police officer allegedly attacked five gay men at Washington DC park

A man allegedly posed as a police officer before attacking gay men with “chemical irritants” in a Washington, DC cruising spot.

According to ABC, officials claim that Michael Thomas Pruden, 48, assaulted five men on separate occasions between 2018 and 2021 at Meridian Hill Park in Washington DC.

He could The Department of Justice announced on Thursday (14 July) that the man, from Maryland, United States could also face hate crime charges as Meridian Hill Park is known as a popular “cruising” spot for LGBTQ+ men.

The department believe that four of the victims were assaulted due to their “perceived sexual orientation”.

The indictment states that Pruden assaulted the men on separate occasions by “approaching them with a flashlight, giving police-style commands, and spraying them with a chemical irritant”.

He was arrested on Thursday (14 July) in Virginia, and now faces a maximum sentence of 10 years for each assault count, three years in prison for impersonating an officer, and more if he is found to have committed a hate crime.

Hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people are sadly common in the United States.

In New York City, where hate crimes have increased by 76 per cent between January and April this year compared to the same period in 2021, one man was stabbed and verbally harassed during Pride Month.

In the UK, it was reported that a “worrying” rise in hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people has taken place since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to last year’s figures, between January and August of 2021 at least 14,670 homophobic hate crimes were recorded in the UK. During the same period in 2020, there were 11,841, and the first six months of 2019 saw 10,817.

Stonewall’s associate director of policy and research, Eloise Stonborough, said in a statement: “LGBT+ people have struggled throughout the pandemic, with many not having access to vital support networks and spaces during lockdowns.

“It’s always worrying to see an increase in anti-LGBT+ hate crime, particularly at a time when our communities were more isolated than ever.”