An abortion rights protest descended into chaos in Rhode Island on Friday, after a state Senate candidate was apparently punched in the face by her Republican opponent.
“I am a reproductive rights organizer and a candidate for the State Senate. Last night, after speaking at our Roe rally, my Republican opponent – a police officer – viciously attacked me,” Democratic candidate Jennifer Rourke said. tweeted Saturday morning.
The alleged assailant, Jeann Lugo, has been confirmed as the officer involved by the Providence Police Department.
Speaking to The Daily Beast, Rourke said she was a board member of the organization that helped organize Friday’s rally. After giving a speech, she said, she pulled away and noticed an altercation involving a counter-protester, whom she encouraged to leave. (Video of the incident appears to show the counter-protester being suddenly punched by another individual.)
Almost immediately afterwards, Rourke said she herself had been punched, apparently by Lugo.
“I kept saying, ‘He hit me. He hit me,'” she recalled. “And he ran away.” She said she never had a conversation with the cop on leave.
Lugo, whose Twitter account was intermittently deactivated on Saturday, tweeted that he would “not run again for any office this fall”, following the incident. Friday’s protest was otherwise generally peaceful, according to reports.
Providence Police The department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, also tweeted on Saturday that it was “criminally investigating the behavior of an off-duty officer last night during a protest in which a woman been assaulted”. The officer was placed on paid administrative leave.
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said he could only comment limited due to the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights, but noted that he had “seen the video” and found it “extremely 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 was suffering from concussion-like symptoms and had been in contact with Providence police to file a complaint. She went to the hospital over the weekend for a precautionary CT scan, she said, and doctors told her to come back if her symptoms got worse.
“Incidents like this are the reason many black and brown candidates don’t run for office,” she added.
Talk to Journal of Providence journalist Amy Russo on Friday, Lugo alleged that Rourke had gotten “physical with him” in the moments leading up to the incident. Rourke “categorically” denied that claim, Russo said.
Earlier 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 saying the decision was an “assault on democracy”.
“This Supreme Court ruling does not remove the ability to have an abortion in the United States,” he wrote. “All it does is give states the right to decide for themselves, nothing more.”
According to his website, Lugo, 35, spent his teenage years in foster care before starting a career in security. He spent over a decade working for a security company before enrolling at Providence Police Academy.
Lugo was operating on a platform of tax cuts, foster care reform and education overhaul. Before apparently deleting his Twitter account, he had also retweeted videos of pro-life marches.
Rourke, for his part, supported proposals for a Green New Deal in Rhode Island, an increased minimum wage to $19 an hour, free child care and other progressive policies.
She will continue in the race against Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey.