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District of Columbia

Md. man charged with targeting gays for assault in Meridian Hill Park

Federal indictment says attacker posed as police officer

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Five men were allegedly assaulted in Meridian Hill Park from 2018-2021 by Michael Thomas Pruden. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A 48-year-old man who has lived in recent years in Oxon Hill, Md. and Norfolk, Va., was arrested in Norfolk on July 14 for allegedly assaulting five men he believed to be gay by spraying them in the face with pepper spray between 2018 and 2021 in D.C.’s Meridian Hill Park, which is also known as Malcolm X Park.

The arrest of Michael Thomas Pruden came two weeks after a federal grand jury handed down an indictment on June 29 charging Pruden with five counts of assault on federal land, one count of impersonating a federal officer, and a hate crime sentencing enhancement alleging that he assaulted four of the men because of their perceived sexual orientation.

“After nightfall, Meridian Hill Park was informally known in the Washington, D.C. community to be a meeting location for men seeking to engage in consensual sexual encounters with other men,” the indictment by the U.S. District Court for D.C. grand jury states. “This practice is colloquially known as ‘cruising,’” the indictment says.

“Michael Thomas Pruden frequented Meridian Hill Park after nightfall and on multiple occasions, including those described below, assaulted men in Meridian Hill Park by approaching them with a flashlight, giving police-style commands, and spraying them with a chemical irritant,” the indictment states.

The D.C. federal grand jury handed down its indictment against Pruden 11 months after a U.S. District Court trial jury in Alexandria, Va., found him not guilty of a charge of assault with a dangerous weapon for allegedly pepper spraying and striking in the head with a large tree branch a man on Daingerfield Island in Alexandria, which is also known as a gay cruising site.

Federal court records in Virginia show that the Daingerfield Island assault took place on March 21, 2021, five days before the D.C. grand jury indictment says Pruden allegedly assaulted the fifth victim in the Meridian Hill Park attacks on March 26, 2021.

The Virginia court records show that Pruden was arrested for the Daingerfield Island assault on May 7, 2021, about two months after the assault took place. The trial court jury acquitted him in that case on Aug. 11, 2021, the court records show. The online court records do not provide information about the witness testimony and arguments by prosecutors and the defense attorney that may have prompted the jury to acquit Pruden in that case.

A July 14 statement released by the U.S. Department of Justice announcing the indictment against Pruden for the Meridian Hill Park assaults says the U.S. Park Police and the FBI’s Washington Field Office conducted the investigation for the case. The statement notes that Meridian Hill Park is one of several federal parks located in D.C. that are under the jurisdiction of U.S. Park Police.

Neither the indictment nor the DOJ statement mentions that U.S. Park police for years have been arresting gay men in Meridian Hill Park on misdemeanor sex-related charges. The most recent known series of sex-related arrests in Meridian Hill Park took place in 2019, when at least 14 of the arrests took place.

An attorney representing one of the arrested men told the Blade that undercover plain-clothes Park Police officers were posing as men cruising for sex and appeared to be enticing the men into masturbating or prompting them to touch the officer, thinking they were interacting with a willing sex partner but engaging in action resulting in their arrest.

LGBTQ activists familiar with this type of arrest have said that while they don’t condone public sex in places like Meridian Hill Park, most of the alleged sexual activity takes place at night in hidden places such as behind thick underbrush where the general public would not observe such activity.   

The Blade couldn’t immediately determine whether additional sex-related arrests have taken place in Meridian Hill Park since 2019.

“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 Justice Department statement says. It says the hate crimes sentencing enhancement handed down by the grand jury increases the possible sentence for the assault counts.

“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 DOJ statement says. It points out that the indictment charges Pruden with assaulting four of the five victims because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

WUSA 9 TV and the Daily Mail have reported that Pruden is a former elementary school teacher in Maryland, but the two news outlets did not say how they obtained that information or where in Maryland Pruden worked as a teacher.

Pruden, who had been held in custody in Norfolk since his arrest on July 14, pleaded not guilty to the charges against him at a virtual Zoom arraignment hearing on July 20 organized by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in Washington.

Without objection from prosecutors with the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office, Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey agreed to a request by Pruden’s court-appointed defense attorney, Alfred Guillaume, that he be released into the custody of a third-party guardian while awaiting trial. Guillaume said Pruden’s mother would act as the guardian and Pruden would be staying at his mother’s residence in Norfolk.

Guillaume, acting on Pruden’s behalf, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Frederick Yett, one of two prosecutors assigned to the case, agreed to a series of restrictions placed on Pruden as a condition for his release that were recommended by the court’s Pretrial Services office.

Among the conditions, which were approved by the judge, are that Pruden must stay away from all individuals he is accused of assaulting and refrain from taking any action that could be interpreted as an attempt to threaten or influence any witnesses in the case.

Other conditions require that he not travel out of the state of Virginia without getting permission from the court; that he remains indoors at his Norfolk residence between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.; that he submits to location monitoring; if recommended by the Pretrial Services office, he must enter a substance abuse counseling program; and he must confer regularly with the Pretrial Service office staff.

In response to a question asked by Magistrate Judge Harvey about his educational background, Pruden said he has a master’s degree in education. Media outlets have reported that Pruden previously has worked as an elementary school teacher in Maryland, but no specific details have surfaced regarding the school where he taught.  

His next court appearance for a status hearing, which the judge said will also be virtual through Zoom, was scheduled for July 28.  

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District of Columbia

Man charged with assaulting lesbian activist pleads guilty, gets 14 months in jail

Aiyi’nah Ford hit in head with barstool at Congress Heights restaurant in August

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Lesbian activist Aiyi’nah Ford was attacked in August. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A D.C. Superior Court judge on Nov. 17 sentenced a 46-year-old D.C. man to 14 months in jail after he pleaded guilty in September to an assault charge for an incident in which he attacked lesbian activist Aiyi’nah Ford at a restaurant on Aug. 3

An arrest affidavit filed by D.C. police on Aug. 12 states that Donnell Anthony Peterson allegedly knocked Ford to the floor at the Player’s Lounge restaurant and bar in the city’s Congress Heights neighborhood before hitting her in the head twice with the metal legs of a barstool.

Ford told the Washington Blade that Peterson, who was a regular customer at Player’s Lounge as was she, assaulted her while repeatedly calling her a “dyke bitch” after the two got into a verbal argument over, among other things, the city’s violence interruption program. Ford said she told Peterson and others who were having a discussion that she considers the program to be ineffective and a “joke.”

According to court records, witnesses reported seeing Ford bleeding profusely from the head before an ambulance took her to George Washington University Hospital, where she received multiple stitches to treat a serious head wound.

Court records show that D.C. police, who were called to the scene at the time of the assault, initially charged Peterson with Assault With a Dangerous Weapon. The records show that Peterson through his attorney agreed in September to accept a plea bargain offer by prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C.

The offer called for lowering the charge to Assault With Significant Bodily Injury in exchange for pleading guilty with a promise by prosecutors to seek a sentence of no more than 14 month in jail.

The court records show that Superior Court Judge James A. Cromwell sentenced Peterson to 32 months of incarceration but suspended 18 months, requiring that he serve 14 months after which he would be released on probation. Court records show the probation was to last 18 months. Under court rules, if someone violates the terms of their probation, which almost always prohibits them from breaking the law or threatening a person they were charged with assaulting, the released person is ordered back to jail to serve the remaining time that had been suspended.

At the time Peterson was arrested in August a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office, in response to a question from the Blade, declined to disclose why prosecutors chose not to classify Peterson’s assault against Ford as a hate crime based on her sexual orientation.

Ford told the Blade this week that the lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alec Levi, was supportive of her throughout the case and told her a hate crime designation sometimes makes it more difficult to obtain a conviction if a case goes to trial. Ford said Levi told her prosecutors wanted to do all they could to bring Peterson to justice for his attack against her.

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District of Columbia

Longtime activist Lane Hudson arrested on drug charges

Homeland Security launched probe leading to August 2021 raid

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Lane Hudson was arrested last year on drug charges. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Documents filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia show that law enforcement officers with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations division and the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department arrested D.C. gay activist Thomas Lane Hudson on Aug. 11, 2021, on charges of possession with the intent to distribute illegal drugs.

An affidavit filed in court says the arrest took place at Hudson’s Logan Circle area apartment after officers forcibly entered the apartment when Hudson did not respond to their knocking on the door announcing their presence with a search warrant.

The affidavit says the officers discovered and seized illegal narcotics that were field tested and weighed and which included “1,096.4 grams of a mixture and substance containing Methamphetamine, a Schedule II controlled substance; 29.5 grams of a mixture and substance containing Heroin, a Schedule I controlled substance; and 322.974 fluid ounces of a mixture and substance containing Gamma Butyrolactone (‘GBL’), a Schedule I controlled substance.”

Court records show that Hudson was held without bond until at least Aug. 25, 2021, when U.S. District Court Judge Robin M. Meriweather approved a motion filed by prosecutors to seal the case from the public record on grounds that it “contains sensitive information regarding the underlying ongoing criminal investigation.”

The Aug. 25 entry that up until then was part of the public court record announcing the decision to seal the case did not disclose any information about an underlying or ongoing investigation. It also did not disclose why federal Homeland Security investigators became involved in a drug case ordinarily handled by D.C. police.

Hudson and his attorney, who is identified in the court records as Brian Keith McDaniel, did not respond to repeated requests by the Washington Blade for comment on the case and to disclose whether they dispute the accuracy of the charges filed against Hudson.

The arrest affidavit, which was filed before the case was sealed, remains a part of the public record. It says that in addition to the allegation that illegal drugs were seized from Hudson’s apartment, the officers conducting the search found “assorted items related to distribution of controlled substances.”

Among the items found, it says, were digital scales, plastic zip bags, vacuum sealer and vacuum sealer bags, a currency counting machine, and “approximately $48,000 in United States currency.” 

Although the public court records do not show whether Hudson was released while awaiting trial or was still being held, sources who know Hudson pointed out that he resumed posting messages on social media in December of 2021 after a period when no postings from him could be found. This suggests he has been released while the case remains pending.

Hudson’s arrest came less than a year before the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance released its 2022 D.C. LGBTQ Election Guide called Leave No One Behind, which calls for the decriminalization of possession of currently illegal drugs for personal use.

Although the GLAA document doesn’t call for decriminalizing the selling of illegal drugs, it says “evidence demonstrates criminalization has done little to curb the prevalence of drugs in our communities and is not an effective way of getting people into treatment because it stigmatizes drug users.”

Hudson is well known in the D.C. area and among LGBTQ advocates locally and nationally. He was twice elected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention; served on Hillary Clinton’s national finance committee; and once worked for the Human Rights Campaign. 

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District of Columbia

Hundreds attend Dupont Circle vigil for Colorado shooting victims

Clergy members join activists in denouncing ant-LGBTQ violence

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Hundreds showed up Monday night to remember Club Q victims. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Several hundred people turned out for a candlelight vigil in Dupont Circle Monday night to honor the five who died and at least 25 wounded in the mass shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colo., this past Saturday night.

Among those who participated in the vigil were eight ministers and two elders from local LGBTQ supportive churches.

The event took place shortly after Colorado authorities released the names of the five patrons of the Club Q nightclub who police said were shot to death by lone gunman suspect Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, who was subdued by other patrons before police arrived on the scene and placed him under arrest.

“We’re going to take the time to heal, to process, to honor those victims, members of our own community,” said Larry Miller, news anchor for D.C.’s WUSA 9 TV, who served as moderator at the vigil.

“It will be tough,” Miller said in opening the event. “But we’ll do it together. If you need to cry this is an opportunity to do that,” he said. “If you need to pray, you’ll have that opportunity as well.”  

The vigil was organized jointly by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs; Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s LGBTQ Pride events; the Center for Black Equity, which organizes D.C.’s Black Pride events; the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community; and the Pride Fund to End Gun Violence.

“Today we are standing in solidarity with our queer family in Colorado Springs in the aftermath of a tragic and deadly shooting at Club Q,” Japer Bowles, director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, told the gathering.

“However, gun violence and anti-LGBTQ hate will not stomp out our life,” Bowles said. “And even though we are mourning today and tomorrow and through the holidays where seats around the dinner table will be empty due to gun violence and anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, our love and our strength as a community will prevail.”

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Kenya Hutton, deputy director of the Center for Black Equity, which organizes D.C.’s Black Pride events, told those attending the Dupont Circle vigil he worries that a shooting incident like the one in Colorado Springs could happen anywhere, including in D.C.

“I’m tired of having to say the names of those we’ve lost for no reason,” he said. “We have legislators pushing all these anti-LGBTQ bills,” Hutton said. “We can’t sit by silently and let this continue.” 

Among the clergy members who spoke was Rev. Adalphie Johnson, Senior Pastor of the Community Church of Washington, D.C.

“I come here this evening with a heavy heart,” she said. “A heavy heart because we are still living in a world where folks need to understand what it means to love, what it means to allow people to be free, what it means to allow people to live their authentic self.”

Others who spoke included Mike Silverstein, a member of the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission; Ryan Bos, executive director of Capital Pride Alliance; Ashley Smith, president of the Capital Pride Alliance Board of Directors and a member of the Human Rights Campaign board; Alexis Elizabeth Rodriguez, director of D.C.’s Latinx Pride organization; and D.C. artist and poet Reggie Rich.

Other clergy members who participated in the vigil included Rev. Aaron Wade, founder and Pastor Emeritus of the Community Church of Washington, D.C.; Rev. Amanda Hendler-Voss, Senior Minister at First Congressional United church of Christ; Rev. Dr. Arthur Cribbs Jr., Senior Pastor of Little River United Church of Christ; Rev. Dr. Sidney Fowler of United Church of Christ; and Rev. Kenneth King, Pastor serving New Hope Baptist Church and Plymouth Congressional United Church of Christ.

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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