GOP Cop Who Punched Democratic Rival at Abortion-Rights Rally Should Be Fired, Chief Says

Video from Friday’s rally captured off-duty Rhode Island cop Jeann Lugo punching Jennifer Rourke in the face.
​Rhode Island officer Jeann Lugo, left, has been charged with assault after punching his rival Jennifer Rourke, right, in the face at an abortion-rights rally on Friday.
Rhode Island officer Jeann Lugo, left, has been charged with assault after punching his rival Jennifer Rourke, right, in the face at an abortion-rights rally on Friday. Photos by Rhode Island state police, jenniferrourkeri.com

An off-duty Rhode Island cop running for state senate has been charged with assault after punching his political rival in the face at an abortion-rights protest, and now his police chief is saying he should be fired.

Video from Friday’s rally captured officer Jeann Lugo, 35, and Republican candidate for Rhode Island senate, throwing punches at Jennifer Rourke, the Democrat running against him. Rourke had been mediating between abortion-rights activists and counterprotesters when a fight broke out between two people, the video shows. Lugo can be seen striking Rourke in her face twice in the video, which now has more than 5 million views.

Advertisement

“This is what it is to be a Black woman running for office,” Rourke tweeted Saturday. “I won't give up.”

According to state police, Lugo turned himself in on Saturday and was charged with assault and disorderly conduct, and placed on administrative leave. He has since ended his campaign and suspended his Twitter account.

Rourke was treated for a concussion, her spokesperson told reporters.

On Tuesday, the Providence police chief said Lugo is facing internal charges, which include violating its standards of conduct and rules governing courtesy, conduct, and demeanor.

“Your above-described misconduct has been prominently reported in the print and electronic media, bringing dishonor, discredit, embarrassment, and reputational harm to the Providence Police Department,” police chief Colonel Hugh Clement Jr. said in a five-page report. “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.”

Lugo’s attorney, Daniel Griffin, said in a statement that he and his client are “disappointed” by the choice to terminate Lugo.

"To make this decision so hastily really flies in the face of due process and fair treatment,” Griffin said. “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.”

Griffin declined to comment further, but told NBC 10 that Lugo didn’t attack Rourke unprovoked and didn’t know it was her in the first place. Lugo alleges that while he was trying to protect a person being attacked at the rally.

“[Lugo] is there trying to pull the green jacket man off of the person getting pummeled,” Griffin said, in reference to a video showing another angle of the moment. “When the person behind him won’t stop pulling him, preventing him from protecting another citizen, he neutralizes that and then he goes right back to try and protect the person.”

In this second video, Rourke can be seen briefly holding onto Lugo as he rushes toward the man who punched another protester.

The Providence Police Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Lugo will have until the end of the week to file a request for a hearing, which his attorney has signaled his client will do.

The incident in Providence was just one instance of violence at demonstrations protesting the Supreme Court’s decision to end the constitutional right to abortion. Videos captured cops beating journalists and protesters at an abortion-rights rally in Los Angeles and tasing demonstrators in Greenville, North Carolina. In Phoenix, Arizona, protesters were tear-gassed after small groups began banging on the door of the state senate building. 

Follow Trone Dowd on Twitter.