GOP Cop Ducks Out of Rhode Island Senate Race After Smacking Rival at Abortion Rally

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beat/Jennifer Rourke/Twitter
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beat/Jennifer Rourke/Twitter

An abortion rights protest devolved into chaos in Rhode Island on Friday, after a state Senate candidate was apparently struck in the face by her Republican opponent.

“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,” Democrat candidate Jennifer Rourke tweeted on Saturday morning.

The alleged assailant, Jeann Lugo, was confirmed as the officer involved by the Providence Police Department.

Speaking to The Daily Beast, Rourke said she is a board member of the organization that helped organize Friday’s rally. After giving a speech, she said, she stepped aside and noticed an altercation taking place involving a counter-protester, whom she encouraged to exit the premises. (Video of the incident appeared to show the counter-protester abruptly getting punched by another individual.)

Almost immediately after, Rourke said she was struck herself—apparently by Lugo.

“I just kept saying, ‘He hit me. He hit me,’ ” she recalled. “And he ran off.” She said she had never previously had a conversation with the off-duty cop.

Lugo, whose Twitter account was intermittently deactivated on Saturday, tweeted that he would no longer “be running for any office this fall,” following the incident. Friday’s protest was otherwise generally peaceful, reports said.

The Providence Police Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, also tweeted on Saturday that it is “criminally investigating the behavior of an off duty officer last evening during a protest where a female was assaulted.” The officer was placed on paid administrative leave.

The mayor of Providence, Jorge Elorza, said he could only make limited comments because of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, but noted that he had “seen the video” and found it “immensely disturbing.”

“Those responsible will be held fully accountable,” he added.

Lugo could not immediately be reached for comment.

Rourke told The Daily Beast that she has been suffering from concussion-like symptoms and has been in touch with Providence police about pressing charges. She went to the hospital over the weekend to receive a precautionary CT scan, she said, and doctors told her to return if her symptoms worsen.

“Incidents like this are the reason why many Black and brown candidates don't run for office,” she added.

Speaking to Providence Journal reporter Amy Russo on Friday, Lugo alleged that Rourke had become “physical with him” in the moments leading up to the incident. Rourke “flatly” denied that claim, Russo said.

Earlier on Friday, after the Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, Lugo had tweeted his view that some politicians were overreacting to the news by claiming that the decision was an “assault on Democracy.”

“This ruling by the Supreme Court does not remove the ability to have an abortion in the USA,” he wrote. “All it does is give the right to the states to decide for themselves, nothing more.”

According to his website, Lugo, 35, spent his teenage years in foster care before beginning a career in security. He spent more than a decade working for a security company before enrolling at the Providence Police Academy.

Lugo was running on a platform of reduced taxes, foster care reform, and education overhaul. Prior to apparently deleting his Twitter account, he had also retweeted videos of pro-life marches.

Rourke, for her part, has backed proposals for a Green New Deal in Rhode Island, a minimum wage increased to $19 per hour, free child care, and other progressive policies.

She will continue in the race against Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey, a Democrat who was previously endorsed by Rhode Island Right to Life.

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