A Rhode Island police officer is facing criminal charges after allegedly punching a woman at an abortion rights rally Friday night.
Jeann Lugo was reportedly off-duty when he assaulted Jennifer Rourke, a state Senate candidate and chairwoman of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, at an abortion rights protest in Providence. After a video of the altercation surfaced online, the Providence Police Department suspended Lugo with pay and began a criminal investigation into his actions.
The officer later said he was “not going to deny” the allegation of assault, but that “everything happened very fast.”
“As an officer that swore to protect and serve our communities, I, unfortunately, saw myself in a situation that no individual should see themselves in,” Lugo said in an email. “I stepped in to protect someone that a group of agitators was attacking.”
In a video taken of the altercation, Lugo can be seen swinging twice at Rourke as two other individuals engage each other alongside him. It’s unclear what sparked the specific incident between Lugo and Rourke.
Lugo, who was also a candidate for the state Senate seat Rourke is running for, later announced he was dropping out of the race, writing in a tweet, “I will not be running for any office this fall.”
In a press release, Rhode Island police announced that Lugo was being charged with simple assault and disorderly conduct. The officer is due to appear in court on July 8.
The Providence Police Department also announced that Lugo, a three-year veteran of the department, would be suspended with pay while they investigate the altercation.
“The PPD is criminally investigating the behavior of an off duty officer last evening during a protest where a female was assaulted,” the department said in a tweet. “The officer has served for 3 yrs and [has been] placed on administrative leave w/ pay this morning, pending a criminal investigation and administrative review.”
The altercation between Lugo and Rourke took place at an abortion rights rally outside the Rhode Island State House on Friday night. Protesters present at the event were demonstrating in response to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.