Off-duty officer charged with assault at abortion protest

June 26, 2022 GMT

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A Rhode Island police officer accused of punching a woman at an abortion protest while he was off-duty has now been charged in connection with Friday’s demonstration at the State House.

In a Saturday evening news release, state police said Providence patrolman Jeann Lugo, 35, was charged with simple assault and disorderly conduct.

Jennifer Rourke, the chair of the progressive Rhode Island Political Cooperative seeking the Democratic nomination for a state Senate seat, said she had been punched in the face at least twice by Lugo, who — at the time — was running for the GOP nomination for the same seat. Providence police said earlier Saturday that Lugo had been suspended from his job with pay pending an investigation, and Lugo subsequently ended his campaign.

Friday’s protest outside the Rhode Island State House in Providence was in response to the decision released the same day by the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that had provided a constitutional right to abortion. Video of the event posted online shows a physical altercation at the protest right before a woman appearing to be Rourke is seen being hit. The video does not show what happened between Lugo and Rourke beforehand.

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In a call with The Associated Press on Saturday, Rourke said that as she was attempting to escort a counterprotester who had agreed to leave off the premises, another physical altercation broke out during which she was punched in the face multiple times. She confirmed she pressed charges against Lugo.

State police say Lugo turned himself in Saturday, was arraigned before a justice of the peace and then released. He’s due in court again on July 8. Lugo didn’t respond to requests for comment on Saturday and Sunday, but told the Boston Globe before charges were announced that he “stepped in to protect someone that a group of agitators was attacking.”

Lugo had also told the Providence Journal he was “not going to deny” the punching allegation, but added that “everything happened very fast.”

Rourke told the AP she had never interacted with Lugo before and did not know he would be at the protest.

“I’m disappointed he chose to use violence in this way. As a police officer, he’s trained to deescalate. He did not do what he was trained to do,” she said.

Rourke sought medical care and received a CT scan on Saturday afternoon. She said she was doing OK but was experiencing a lot of tenderness in her face and ringing in her ears.

Two other people were also charged following the Friday event that briefly turned violent. One of the two people, Nicholas Morrell, of Warwick, said in a Sunday message that he is 30, not 31 as police said, and he had “video evidence of the entire thing (and) I was arrested for standing there.”

The other person who was arrested did not respond to a social media message Sunday seeking comment.