Police officer charged after attacking woman at abortion rally in Rhode Island

Video of the abortion protest posted online shows an argument that led to a physical...
Video of the abortion protest posted online shows an argument that led to a physical altercation between two unidentified individuals, right before a woman, apparently Jennifer Rourke, is seen being hit.(Source: Bill Bartholomew/The Bartholomewtown Podcast via CNN)
Published: Jun. 27, 2022 at 7:19 AM EDT
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP/CBS46) — The decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has led to outrage and hundreds of protests across the United States. At an abortion protest held at the Rhode Island State House on Friday, video shows an off-duty Providence Police officer allegedly punching a woman.

In a Saturday evening news release, Rhode Island 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.

Rhode Island based journalist Bill Bartholomew took video of the shocking moments Lugo struck Rourke in the face multiple times.

(Video courtesy of the Bill Bartholomew Podcast)

The 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.

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 assault on Rourke has led to frustrations as community and city leaders call for Lugo to be fired and jailed.

Lugo is scheduled for a re-arraignment date of July 8.