PROVIDENCE — Jeann Lugo, the off-duty Providence Police officer and former Republican state Senate candidate accused of assaulting a Democratic opponent at an abortion rights rally, pleaded not guilty in court on Friday.
Lugo, 35, is being charged with simple assault or battery and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors. His bail was set at $2,000 personal recognizance and was ordered to have no contact with the complaining witness.
Dan Griffin, Lugo’s attorney, said in a statement prior to the arraignment Friday that Lugo has been a “tremendous police officer,” a “dedicated father,” and a “real asset to his community.”
“He trusts the process and believes the actual facts will exonerate him,” said Griffin.
Lugo’s next court date is July 18.
In a video that was captured by a Globe reporter on the night of the June 24 rally, Lugo, who was off-duty, is seen punching progressive Democratic candidate Jennifer Rourke in the face multiple times.
With hundreds of abortion rights advocates gathered on the Rhode Island State House plaza after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, a man livestreaming the event shouted something and was surrounded by protestors. Rourke — a board member of The Womxn Project (and demonstration organizer) and candidate for a state Senate seat in Warwick’s District 29 — had rushed over to try to defuse the situation. The man, later identified as Josh Mello of Cranston, was asked to leave by Rourke and others. He was later assaulted by an unidentified man in a green- and white-striped jacket. Mello said he was physically hurt. The Rhode Island State Police are now seeking help from the public to identify the man who assaulted Mello.
In response to questions from the Globe the day after the rally, Lugo did not deny punching Rourke and said he was protecting Mello.
“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 a June 25 email to the Globe. “I stepped in to protect someone that a group of agitators was attacking.”
According to an affidavit written by State Trooper Lindsay Laurie and obtained by the Globe Friday, at the rally, Lugo “is seen taking a defensive stance, and ‘squares off’ with Ms. Rourke who also put her hands up.”
“Mr. Lugo then struck Ms. Rourke in the left side of her face using his right hand,” read the affidavit. “He followed through and struck Ms. Rourke a second time in the area of the face using his left hand and immediately walked away.”
Rourke told both the Globe and state troopers that she had never spoken to or interacted with Lugo previously, but knew recognized him from social media. It was earlier that week that Lugo had announced he was running against Rourke for the District 29 Senate seat that Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey, is vacating after 28 years in office.
Lague wrote in the affidavit that Rourke claimed that she did not touch Lugo in any way that would “instigate a violent response from him.”
Lugo dropped out of the District 29 race the following day, and was suspended with pay from the police department, per state law regulations under the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, also known as LEOBOR.
Providence Police Chief Hugh T. Clements has recommended that he be fired.
“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,” Clements wrote in a document that outlined the findings of the department’s internal investigation.
Lugo has worked for the Providence Police Department for three years. He cannot be fired outright due to protections through LEOBOR and has requested a LEOBOR hearing. He has never had a civilian complaint against him during his time with the force, said Lindsay Lague, a spokeswoman for Providence Police.
Lugo is currently free on personal recognizance.
Lugo has used right-wing messaging to appeal to voters. Prior to joining the District 29 race, he had been running for lieutenant governor, and has since deactivated his Twitter account.
Lugo spoke to members of Citizens Organized to Restore Rights in May, which is a group that claims the “government is out of control.” The group has posted stances such as calling masks in school “child abuse,” that gun control legislation is “unconstitutional,” and the phrase “Let’s Go Brandon.”
At the meeting, in front of individuals that call themselves “Freedom Fighters,” Lugo said Republican candidates and politicians had not fought hard enough.
“But now, seeing you guys, seeing other groups go out [to] the State House, getting in front of people’s faces, it’s bringing a lot of hope,” Lugo said. “It’s bringing a lot of hope to Rhode Island, which is the Rhode Island motto.”