A male off-duty Rhode Island police officer who was running for state Senate physically attacked his female political opponent at an abortion rights rally, she said.
Providence Police said Saturday that they have placed the cop, Jeann Lugo, on paid administrative leave as they launched a criminal investigation into Friday night’s alleged assault, which was captured on video.
Courtesy Bill Bartholomew — The Bartholomewtown Podcast
Lugo, who was running for Senate District 29 as a Republican, dropped out of the race Saturday afternoon. “I will not be running for any office this fall,” he wrote on Twitter, before temporarily deactivating his account.
Jen Rourke, a progressive running for the same seat who identifies herself as a reproductive rights organizer, said that Lugo “violently attacked me” after her speech at the rally outside the state house in Providence following the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.
“This is what it is to be a Black woman running for office. I won’t give up,” Rourke wrote in a tweet that included a snippet of video of the incident.
The five-second clip, taken by Bill Bartholomew, a local journalist who runs The Bartholomewtown Podcast, appears to show a man throwing two punches at a woman’s head, at least one of which connects with its target.
Rourke went to a hospital in Kent, Rhode Island, on Saturday for a CT scan, a campaign spokesman told CNBC.
The Providence Police Department tweeted 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, later explicitly identified as Lugo, has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the review, the department said. A spokesperson for the department did not immediately respond to CNBC’s requests for comment.
Before dropping out of the state Senate race, Lugo sent a statement to CNBC appearing to defend his actions without denying that he punched Rourke.
“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. I stepped in to protect someone that a group of agitators was attacking,” Lugo’s statement said. “At this moment, there’s a pending internal investigation, and as the facts of the incident come to light, I request that my family and I have privacy.”
Bartholomew, in an interview with CNBC, said that about 1,000 people had attended the rally to protest the Supreme Court’s ruling, which on Friday morning struck down the legal precedents that had protected federal abortion rights for nearly 50 years.
About 10 members of a right-wing group known as the Freedom Fighters also showed up to the event, Bartholomew said. One of those members, who was filming, appeared to be goading some members of the crowd. After being asked to leave, the person at first refused, then started to walk away — but when he turned back toward the crowd, someone punched him in the face and stomped on him, Bartholomew said. “A melee ensued,” the local journalist said, at which point he saw Rourke getting hit in the face.
Neither Lugo nor other members of the crowd who allegedly engaged in violence were arrested at that time, Bartholomew said.
Rourke, in a statement to CNBC from her campaign, said she was “deescalating the situation and the counter-protestor was leaving when the altercation started.”
“I was assaulted as a result of that,” she said.
“This is what it is to be a Black woman running for office. All across this country, people like me are threatened or attacked when they run. I’m not going to stop fighting – for reproductive rights, for the people in my district, or for people like me who want to run for office,” Rourke said.