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Officer accused of attacking opponent at abortion protest should be fired, chief says

Jeann Lugo should be terminated from the Providence, Rhode Island, Police Department after the alleged assault against his onetime opponent for a state Senate seat, officials said.

An off-duty Rhode Island police officer who was running for the state Senate should be fired after he was alleged to have attacked his onetime opponent at an abortion rights protest last week, an internal investigation concluded.

Patrolman Jeann Lugo’s conduct Friday night was “disturbing, egregious, assaultive and unprofessional,” and his alleged actions “tarnished the proud reputation of the Providence Police Department,” the chief of police, Col. Hugh Clements Jr., wrote in a five-page report released Tuesday.Jennifer Rourke, who is running for the seat in the state’s 29th District, said she had finished speaking at a rally outside the State House in Providence when Lugo attacked her.

According to the investigation, Lugo hit Rourke on the left side of her face with his right hand, struck her again in the area of her face with his left hand and walked away. The investigation also found that Lugo violated department rules and regulations about obedience to laws and rules, standard of conduct, courtesy, rules governing conduct and demeanor.

“Based on the facts and circumstances presented to me, I have lost confidence in your capacity and ability to exercise self-control, and to conduct yourself in a civil, respectful and professional manner. Accordingly, I recommend that you be terminated from employment as a Providence police officer,” Clements wrote.

Providence Police Chief Hugh T. Clements
The police chief, Col. Hugh T. Clements Jr., in downtown Providence, R.I., on Sept. 25, 2020.Jonathan Wiggs / Boston Globe via Getty Images

Lugo, 35, was arrested on charges of simple assault and disorderly conduct, state police said Saturday. Lugo turned himself in and was arraigned and released, officials said. He is due in district court July 8 for re-arraignment, police said.

The incident was partly captured on video by journalist Bill Bartholomew of "The Bartholomewtown Podcast."

“I’m a reproductive rights organizer & State Senate candidate. Last night, after speaking at our Roe rally, my Republican opponent — a police officer — violently attacked me,” Rourke wrote in a Twitter post that included the video.

“This is what it is to be a Black woman running for office. I won’t give up.”

Lugo’s attorney, Daniel Griffin, said his client deserved more from his department and the city.

“We are shocked and extremely disappointed in the City’s decision today. To make this decision so hastily really flies in the face of due process and fair treatment,” Griffin said in a statement. “It’s unclear if the State Police has even completed the entirety of its investigation, and yet the City has moved to terminate one of its own police officers — one with an unblemished record — just 72 hours after charges were brought.”

He added: “Quite frankly, Officer Lugo expected more from his City. However, he remains confident that the facts of this situation will be brought to light and show that he is innocent of any wrongdoing.”

Representatives with the city and the police department could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The police department said it launched a criminal investigation and placed Lugo on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation and an administrative review.

Lugo, who has been with the department for three years, briefly addressed the incident on Twitter.

"I will not be running for any office this fall,” he posted. He was running as a Republican. The account no longer exists.

Lugo told CNBC in a statement that he was in “a situation that no individual should see themselves in” and that he had tried to “protect someone that a group of agitators was attacking.”

“At this moment, there’s a pending internal investigation, and as the facts of the incident come to light, I request that my family and I have privacy,” he said then.

Providence was just one of many cities where protesters took to the streets after the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade, the ruling that guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion.