Off-duty officer charged with assault during anti-abortion protest

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PROVIDENCE, RI (AP) — A Rhode Island police officer accused of punching a woman during an abortion protest while off duty has now been charged in connection with the protest in Friday at the State House.

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

Jennifer Rourke, the president of the Rhode Island Progressive Political Cooperative seeking the Democratic nomination for a state Senate seat, said she was 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 work with pay pending an investigation, and Lugo later ended his campaign.

Friday’s protest outside the Rhode Island State House in Providence followed the same day’s decision by the United States Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that provided a constitutional right to abortion. Video of the event posted online shows a physical altercation during the protest just before a woman appearing to be Rourke was seen being punched. 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 tried to escort a counter-protester who had agreed to leave the scene, another physical altercation broke out during which she received several punches in the face. She confirmed that she filed a complaint against Lugo.

According to state police, Lugo surrendered on Saturday, was brought before a justice of the peace, and then released. He is due to appear in court again on July 8. Lugo did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday and Sunday, but told the Boston Globe before the charges were announced that he “stepped in to protect someone who was being attacked by a group of agitators.”

Lugo also told the Providence Journal that he “wasn’t going to deny” the punching allegation, but added that “everything happened very quickly.”

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

“I am disappointed that he chose to use violence in this way. As a police officer, he is trained in de-escalation. He didn’t do what he was trained to do,” she said.

Rourke sought medical attention and received a CT scan on Saturday afternoon. She said she was fine but felt a lot of tenderness on her face and ringing in her ears.

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

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

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