PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence Police Department is moving to fire the off-duty officer and former Republican political candidate who reportedly assaulted his Democratic rival at an abortion rights rally last week.
Providence Police Chief Hugh Clements described Patrolman Jeann Lugo’s behavior during Friday night’s demonstration as “disturbing, egregious, assaultive and unprofessional.”
“I have lost confidence in your capacity to and ability to exercise self-control, and to conduct yourself in a civil, respectful and professional manner,” Clements wrote in a notice sent to Lugo on Tuesday.
Lugo also violated the police department’s rules and regulations, according to the police chief. Clements said Lugo’s misconduct, in turn, brought “dishonor, discredit, embarrassment and reputational harm to the Providence Police Department.”
Clements said as a result, he has recommended that Lugo be terminated from his job.
Lugo, 35, can’t be fired outright because he is protected by the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBOR).
He has five days to decide whether to resign or request a LEOBOR hearing, which wouldn’t take place until after his criminal case is adjudicated. In the meantime, LEOBOR requires he be paid during his suspension.
Dan Griffin, Lugo’s attorney, told 12 News that his client is “shocked and extremely disappointed in the city’s decision.”
“To make this decision so hastily really flies in the face of due process and fair treatment,” Griffin said. “It’s unclear if the R.I. State Police has even completed the entirety of its investigation, and yet the city has moved to terminate one of its own police officers — one with an unblemished record — just 72 hours after charges were brought.”
“Quite frankly, Officer Lugo expected more from his city,” he continued. “However, he remains confident that the facts of this situation will be brought to light and show that he is innocent of any wrongdoing.”
Lugo was arrested over the weekend after video surfaced online of him punching Rhode Island Political Cooperative co-founder Jennifer Rourke during a brawl outside the State House Friday night, where hundreds of people were gathered to condemn the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Rourke, one of Lugo’s former Democratic challengers for a state Senate seat in Warwick, told 12 News she was trying to keep the peace after an argument had broken out amongst demonstrators. Lugo claims he had “stepped in to protect someone that a group of agitators was attacking.”
Josh Mello, who described himself as an independent journalist, claims Lugo was trying to stop an unidentified man from attacking him at the rally.
“It kind of came out of nowhere,” he recalled. “I didn’t expect it, he just kind of hit me and that was it … I was stunned.”
Mello said someone called him a “Christian fascist” while he was filming the rally, causing several other agitated demonstrators to surround him.
“I was not a counter protestor,” Mello said. “I definitely didn’t go there as a provocateur.”
Mello said he never expected the rally to turn violent, adding that Rourke was attempting to escort him out of the crowd to safety. He said once the man who hit him is identified, he plans on pressing charges.
“After seeing what that punch has now caused, especially in other people’s lives, he needs to be held accountable,” Mello said.
The Providence Police Department immediately placed Lugo, a three-year veteran of the force, on paid administrative leave following the incident.
Lugo initially announced that he would seek the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor this year, but recently decided to end that campaign and instead seek the seat currently held by Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey, D-Warwick. (Rourke had been challenging McCaffrey in the Democratic primary until he announced his retirement on Monday.)
But on Saturday afternoon, a message posted to Lugo’s Twitter account stated he would no longer be seeking political office this year. The account was then deactivated.
Lugo was released on personal recognizance and will be formally arraigned on July 8.