PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A Rhode Island police officer accused of punching a woman at an abortion protest while he was off-duty was suspended from his job with pay Saturday while the Providence Police Department conducts a criminal investigation into his actions.
Jennifer Rourke, Rhode Island Political Cooperative Chairwoman and a state Senate candidate, told the Providence Journal she was punched in the face at least twice by Jeann Lugo, the officer who had also been her challenger in the state Senate race.
Lugo told the Journal on he was “not going to deny” the punching allegation, but added that “everything happened very fast.”
“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,” he said in the email to the Boston Globe. ”I stepped in to protect someone that a group of agitators was attacking.”
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 right before a woman, apparently Rourke, is seen being hit. The video does not show what happened between Lugo and Rourke prior to Rourke being hit.
“I’m a Black woman running for office,” Rourke told the Journal. “There was no need, no need for any of 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 immensely disturbing,” Elorza said. “Those responsible will be held fully accountable.”
At midday Saturday, Lugo tweeted that he was dropping out of the race.
“I will not be running for any office this fall,” he said.
In a news release announcing the suspension, Providence police said the suspended officer was a three-year veteran.
The altercation occurred during a Friday protest outside the Rhode Island State House in Providence that was in response to the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that had provided a constitutional right to abortion.