PROVIDENCE — The Providence police officer who was spared termination after being acquitted of punching a woman at an abortion rally is now on probation after falling asleep while on duty.
Colonel Oscar Perez, the police chief, confirmed Officer Jeann Lugo received a two-day suspension for the incident earlier this summer, and he has also been placed on probation for six months.
A copy of the probation agreement with Lugo was not immediately available. But Perez said it would give him the authority to punish Lugo if he violates any more department rules.
“It gives me the latitude to take action,” Perez told the Globe. “Dependent on the seriousness of the offense, a day suspension up to termination.”
Reached by phone, Lugo declined to comment.
Lugo’s employment as a Providence officer has been a source of controversy since he was arrested after punching political opponent Jennifer Rourke during a disturbance at an abortion rally at the State House in 2022. (Lugo was running for state Senate in Warwick as a Republican at the time, while Rourke was running as a Democrat.)
The Providence Police Department sought to fire him, but under Rhode Island law cannot do so without a hearing before a panel of three current or retired law enforcement officers. The hearing can take place only after the criminal case is over.
At his criminal trial in November 2022, a judge acquitted Lugo, agreeing with the defense that he was justified in striking Rourke during the melee as he sought to “maintain public order.”
The city still sought to fire him during a closed-door hearing under the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, known as LEOBOR. The three-officer panel suspended Lugo for 10 days in April of this year, declining to terminate him.
Shortly after returning to duty, Lugo was caught sleeping in the driver’s seat of a police cruiser while on a detail on the East Side. After a video of the June incident was posted on social media in July, Lugo was placed on desk duty pending an internal investigation.
Perez said that investigation recently concluded and Lugo has served his two-day suspension, the longest punishment allowed under LEOBOR before an officer has a right to request a hearing.
The separate six-month probation agreement is not common, Perez acknowledged, adding that Lugo’s “discipline history was taken into account.”
Typically, officers on probation — such as those who have just graduated from the police academy — can be fired without needing to go through the LEOBOR process.
Lugo’s case is one of several that have recently highlighted the difficulty in firing police officers in Rhode Island. The police chief at the time, Hugh Clements, said in administrative charging documents he had lost confidence in Lugo’s “ability to exercise self-control” and conduct himself in a professional manner.
He called Lugo’s conduct “disturbing, egregious and assaultive.”
Perez, who took over for Clements this year, agreed with the former chief’s assessment and continued to seek Lugo’s termination. The LEOBOR panel disagreed, acquitting him of most of the administrative charges against him but faulting Lugo for not notifying his superiors of the off-duty use of force.
“Lugo is an officer on the Providence Police Department solely because of LEOBOR,” said Harrison Tuttle, the president of the Black Lives Matter Rhode Island PAC. The group has been critical of the state law that makes it difficult for police chiefs to fire officers. “It’s really important that lawmakers take a look at this bill again, specifically repeal.”
The department has also been seeking to fire another officer, Sergeant Joseph Hanley, for more than three years. Hanley was convicted by a judge in 2021 of assaulting a handcuffed suspect in April 2020, but is currently appealing the case and awaiting a jury trial in Superior Court.
His LEOBOR hearing can’t happen until after that second trial, and in the meantime Hanley remains employed by the Providence Police Department, but on unpaid suspension. He receives medical and dental benefits. He reaches 20 years on the force this fall, the typical threshold to receive a full pension upon retirement. The city could seek to take action against his retirement benefits.
“We’re extremely concerned that his retirement is going to cause a lack of accountability for his actions going on multiple years,” Tuttle said. “BLM RI PAC feels it’s a complete failure of the system itself that he’s still awaiting a LEOBOR trial.”
In Pawtucket, city officials have similarly been seeking to fire Daniel Dolan Jr., an officer who shot a teenager while off duty in 2021.
Dolan claimed self-defense and was acquitted of criminal charges earlier this year. He received $123,000 in back pay for the time he was suspended. The city was preparing for his LEOBOR hearing in hopes of firing him when Dolan was arrested again earlier this month for allegedly driving under the influence.
Dolan’s LEOBOR hearing in the shooting case is now delayed temporarily as a result of the new charges, according to attorney Vincent Ragosta, who is representing Pawtucket in the case.