PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A suspended Providence police officer on trial for an alleged assault has been found not guilty.
Jeann Lugo, 35, was acquitted of a simple assault charge following the bench trial.
Lugo was accused of attacking a political rival, Rhode Island Political Cooperative co-founder Jennifer Rourke, during an abortion rally outside the state house in June. He was off-duty at the time and the incident was captured on video.
In court last week, Lugo claimed his priority as a police officer was to apprehend a suspect who assaulted Josh Mello, a self-described independent journalist. Lugo said in his attempts to capture the suspect, he applied two “police-trained open-handed distractionary strike techniques” on Rourke to “get her off” him.
Watch: Judge reads the court’s verdict in the Lugo trial (Story continues below.)
The court acknowledged that Lugo struck Rouke, but said he did so to try to break free from Rourke who was restraining him from entering the “melee” that occurred at the rally.
The judge found Lugo’s actions were not unreasonable, saying they were in line with keeping public order and therefore justified.
In late August, a judge dismissed a disorderly conduct charge against Lugo.
“He never should have been arrested. He’s a kid who wanted to serve the city, who wanted to serve his community, and he was railroaded,” Lugo’s attorney, Daniel Griffin, said. “He’s acquitted now and we just hope that the city of Providence does the right thing and puts him back to work.”
Lugo has been on paid suspension since the summer. A spokesperson for Providence police said the department is still seeking to terminate him despite the acquittal. He can’t be fired outright because he’s protected by the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBOR).
It’s unclear when the LEOBOR hearing will occur.
Watch: Lugo’s attorney on the officer’s acquittal (Story continues below.)
Leaders from the Black Lives Matter RI Political Action Committee said they believe the justice system has failed Rourke. Executive Director Harrison Tuttle was at the rally and said Rourke was only trying to deescalate the situation.
“It’s a really disappointing decision today,” he said. “This is unacceptable. We cant have people, but most importantly police officers, punching women in the face.”
12 News reached out to Rourke for comment but did not hear back.
Below is the full statement from Black Lives Matter RI PAC released on Rourke’s behalf after the ruling came down:
“Today, Jeann Lugo, a Providence Police officer and former candidate for RI Senate District 29 was acquitted on assault charges brought against him by Jennifer Rourke, stemming from an altercation at an abortion rights rally at the State House on June 25, 2022.
“We at BLM RI PAC want to extend our deepest condolences to Jennifer Rourke, the alleged victim of this assault. No person, let alone a political candidate should have to fear or face physical violence, based on their political views. Along with her alleged physical assault, which was captured on camera, her rights to free speech and public demonstration were robbed from her, by an officer who swore an oath to protect those rights for all citizens. Jennifer had her day in court and had to face her alleged abuser, as daunting and stressful as that is. Unfortunately the justice system failed her, and we know at this time, her grief and trauma is indescribable.
“To Officer Lugo and the Providence Police Department: The actions committed on that day and the resulting trial and decision are abhorrent. Today is a clear example of how policing in our state and capital city needs to be examined under heavy scrutiny. To have an officer of the law, sworn to protect the rights of citizens in our community, attack a political figure exercising their right to free speech and public demonstration is a contradiction and stain on the validity of this officer’s employment and the Providence Police Department as a whole. We strongly urge the city of Providence and the Providence Police Department to think carefully, if and when they decide to reinstate Officer Lugo.
“As we continue to fight for the rights of the people in our state, another day goes by and another alleged victim of police brutality is left to fend for themselves. The justice system has again failed to protect those who are victims. We were left waiting and wondering what the outcome of this trial would be, as we were not allowed to receive any substantial information on the matter from Mayor Elorza or any high ranking officers at the Providence Police Department, due to active LEOBOR statutes that don’t allow them to speak on investigations of officers, even when criminal charges are being brought upon the officer. We wait for the day this is no longer. We wait for the day that victims of police brutality receive the justice they deserve. We wait for the police in our cities and towns are held accountable for their actions and remain transparent.”