PROVIDENCE, RI (AP) — A Rhode Island police officer accused of beating a woman during an abortion protest while off duty was suspended Saturday as the Providence Police Department conducts a criminal investigation into his actions.
Jennifer Rourke, president of the Rhode Island political cooperative and candidate for state Senate, told the Providence Journal that she had been punched at least twice in the face by Jeann Lugo, the officer who was also her challenger in the race for the state senate.
Lugo told the Journal he “wouldn’t deny the punching allegation,” but added that “everything happened very quickly.”
“As an officer sworn to protect and serve our communities, I unfortunately saw myself in a situation where no individual should see themselves,” he said in the email to the Boston Globe. “I intervened to protect someone who was attacking a group of rioters.”
Lugo did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.
Video of the event posted online shows two other individuals involved in a physical altercation at the protest just before a woman, apparently Rourke, is hit. The video does not show what happened between Lugo and Rourke before Rourke was hit.
“I’m a black woman who goes to the office,” Rourke told the Journal. “There was no need, no need for this. I’m not going to give up.”
Providence mayor Jorge Elorza addressed the conflict in a tweet but said he was limited in what he could say.
“I’ve seen the video and it’s very disturbing,” Elorza said. “Those responsible will be held fully accountable.”
On Saturday afternoon, Lugo tweeted that he would be withdrawing from the race.
“I will not be running for any position this fall,” he said.
In a press release announcing the suspension, the Providence Police Department said the suspended officer was a three-year veteran.
The altercation took place during a protest Friday outside the Rhode Island State House in Providence in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that granted a constitutional right to abortion.
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