Providence police officer charged with assault at abortion-rights rally: What we know

  • In US
  • 2022-06-27 17:02:10Z
  • By The Providence Journal

Friday's chaos at an abortion-rights protest outside the State House resulted in three arrests.

One of those arrested was Providence police officer Jeann Lugo, who suspended his Republican campaign for state Senate after allegedly punching Jennifer Rourke, a Democratic candidate in the same Senate race.

Here's what we know so far.

The charges and Lugo's defense

Lugo was arraigned on Saturday on charges of simple assault and disorderly conduct, and released on his own recognizance. He's suspended with pay and due back in court on July 8. According to the Police Department, no civilian complaints have been filed against Lugo since his hiring three years ago.

Video from journalist Bill Bartholomew shows Rourke being punched. Lugo has not admitted to, or denied, punching her.

"I'm not going to deny," he told The Providence Journal in a phone call late Friday night. "It was very chaotic, so I can't really tell you right now. Everything happened very fast."

Roe v. Wade overturned: RI advocates warn 'a close reality that more rights can be taken'

Lugo has not responded to The Journal's attempts to reach him again following his arrest.

During The Journal's call with Lugo, he claimed that Rourke had become physical with him, which Rourke denied.

Lugo also claimed to have been attempting to assist a man named Josh Mello, because protesters had circled around him. Demonstrators asked Mello to leave after he heckled people in the crowd and live streamed the incident on Facebook. An unidentified man in a green jacket then punched Mello right before Lugo allegedly punched Rourke.

In telling his version of the events, Lugo said, "there was a man getting attacked so I was trying to reach him, and there were some protesters behind me."

After Rourke is punched, Bartholomew's video shows state police rushing into the crowd, but they do not apprehend Lugo that night.

Initial arrests

Instead, as the crowd began to disperse, state police arrested Jessica Burton and Nicholas Morrell, both of Warwick. Police charged both with disorderly conduct, and additionally charged Morrell with resisting arrest and having weapons other than a firearm.

More about the Providence police officer: Jeann Lugo once praised right-wing protesters for 'getting in front of people's faces'

A Facebook page for a right-wing group called Rhode Island Freedom Fighters states that the arrested were members of the group. The Journal reached out to an account run by a Nick Morrell, who calls himself the group's founder, but has not received a reply. The Journal has not been able to locate a page for Burton, or a way to reach her. The Journal has also reached out to the Freedom Fighters via an email address, but has not received a reply.

Officials silenced by police "Bill of Rights"

While commenting on the violence, officials have made clear that they are limited by the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights. Otherwise known as LEOBOR, the law created in 1976 outlines a process for handling cases of police misconduct via a hearing before three retired or current officers.

During this time, officials are expected to limit public comments about the case. Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré told The Journal that "LEOBOR prohibits public statements beyond what we have confirmed."

However, he called he assault "criminal and reprehensible," vowing a full investigation.

Last year: Mayor Elorza calls for repeal of Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights

Similarly, Mayor Jorge Elorza said he is "limited in what I can say publicly due to LEOBOR."

"With that said, I've seen the video and it's immensely disturbing," he added. "Those responsible will be held fully accountable."

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: What we know about Providence police officer Jeann Lugo assault arrest


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