PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Democratic political candidate who accused her former Republican challenger of assaulting her outside the Rhode Island State House earlier this summer took the stand Tuesday in his bench trial.
Jennifer Rourke, co-founder of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, testified that Jeann Lugo punched her in the face during a brawl that erupted as hundreds of people gathered to condemn the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Lugo, who’s also a Providence police officer, was charged with simple assault and disorderly conduct after video of the altercation surfaced online. The judge presiding over the trial dismissed the disorderly conduct charge on Tuesday.
Rourke explained that she was trying to keep the peace after an argument broke out between demonstrators. She claims Josh Mello, a self-proclaimed journalist, was recording the rally with his phone and shouting in an effort to agitate the crowd.
Rourke said she was attempting to get Mello to leave when she was suddenly punched twice in the face, adding that she didn’t know at the time it was allegedly Lugo who had hit her.
Lugo claims he “stepped in to protect someone that a group of agitators was attacking.” Mello previously told 12 News that Lugo was trying to protect him from an unidentified man who suddenly started assaulting him.
Lugo’s attorney, Dan Griffin, questioned Rourke’s motives and pointed out that her campaign raised more than $20,000 in the days following the incident.
That’s when Special Assistant Attorney General Erica Rebussini interrupted Griffin.
“You wouldn’t just take a punch in the face for some campaign donations, would you?” Rebussini remarked.
Despite Griffin’s objection, the judge allowed Rourke to answer the question, to which she said “no.”
The altercation prompted Lugo to drop out of the race to replace state Senate Majority Leader Mike McCaffrey, who announced his retirement a few days after the incident. (Rourke had been challenging McCaffrey in the Democratic primary prior to that.)
The Providence Police Department placed Lugo, a three-year veteran of the force, on paid administrative leave following the incident. Chief Hugh Clements later recommended Lugo be terminated for his “disturbing, egregious, assaultive and unprofessional” behavior.
However, Lugo can’t be fired outright because he is protected by the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBOR).
Griffin previously confirmed that Lugo requested a LEOBOR hearing, which will take place once the criminal case is adjudicated. In the meantime, LEOBOR requires that he be paid during his suspension.
Lugo pleaded not guilty during his arraignment last month and is currently out on personal recognizance pending the judge’s decision.
Griffin requested the case be dismissed and his client be acquitted of the charges. While the judge decided to drop the disorderly conduct charge, he did not make a decision regarding the case in its entirety.
Both Lugo and Rourke declined to comment as they left the courthouse.