PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A Providence police officer who was seen on video striking a political opponent at a State House rally last year has escaped termination following a closed-door hearing in front of a panel of his peers.

The three-member panel made up of members of Rhode Island law enforcement voted unanimously to overturn the Providence Police Department’s efforts to fire Jeann Lugo, and instead handed down a 10-day unpaid suspension.

The decision, which came down Tuesday afternoon, was confirmed by Lugo’s attorney in the administrative case, Carly Beauvais Iafrate.

The hearing – part of the state’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights – took place over three days last month. Lugo was found not guilty of five of the seven departmental charges the city brought against him.

The panel determined Lugo was guilty of two violations, “obedience to laws and rules” and “rules governing conduct,” faulting Lugo for not notifying his superiors of the off-duty use of force. Instead, the panel wrote in a 56-page report, Lugo went to a State Police barracks to bail out his campaign manager, who was arrested during the melee.

Lugo was accused of hitting a political rival, Rhode Island Political Cooperative co-founder Jennifer Rourke, during an abortion rally outside the state house in June. The incident was captured on video.

Lugo was a Republican candidate for state senate at the time of the incident, while Rourke was running for the same seat as a Democrat.

Former Police Chief Hugh Clements had written in charging documents last year that he had lost confidence in Lugo’s “ability to exercise self-control” and conduct himself in a professional manner. He called Lugo’s conduct “disturbing, egregious and assaultive” and said it tarnished the reputation of the police department.

In a joint statement Wednesday morning, Mayor Brett Smiley and Col. Oscar Perez, the current chief, said Lugo’s actions “directly contradict our values and the standards we expect our officers to adhere while on and off duty.”

An an unrelated press briefing later Wednesday, Perez told reporters he will respect the LEOBOR panel’s decision.

“We hold our officers accountable to the highest professional standards,” Perez said. “His actions were not the same actions that we hold ourselves to.”

Perez said Lugo has continued to be paid since the incident ten months ago, but will serve his 10-day suspension unpaid. It was not immediately clear when he would return to active duty.

“We’re in the process of figuring out when he’s coming back,” Perez said, adding that Lugo would be required to complete any trainings he missed.

Reached by phone, Lugo declined to comment.

“I’m glad the bill of rights process worked exactly as it should have,” Iafrate said. “His mission from the beginning was just to get back to work. He loved his job as a Providence police officer.”

“The last year has been very difficult for him,” she added. “He is looking forward to getting back to it.”

At Lugo’s trial in November, a district court judge found while Lugo did strike Rourke, it did not rise to the level of criminality. The panel’s decision leaned heavily into the district court’s decision in their finding.

By law, the three-member panel includes a pick by the accused officer, one by the department binging the charges, and a neutral party. In this case, the city chose Providence Police Commander Kevin Lanni, Lugo picked former police union officer Robert Boehm, and the neutral panelist was Cranston Police Major Todd Patalano.

The hearing was closed to the public, and a 12 News reporter was kicked out of the room during the proceedings.

In the report detailing the panel’s decision, Patalano said video and images made it clear that Rourke grabbed Lugo during the brawl, which the panel concluded justified Lugo’s decision to strike her as he attempted to stop another man from being assaulted.

The panel also believed Lugo’s testimony that he did not know who Rourke was, despite her political campaign for the same seat he was seeking.

“He did not know and had no way of knowing it was Rourke who was grabbing and pulling on him from behind,” Patalano wrote. “His instant reaction to use force was justified.”

The witnesses for the city were Rourke, former Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré and Providence Police Lt. Michael Fallon. Lugo was the only witness for his defense.

The report reveals that the panelists questioned Paré about the decision to take swift action against Lugo, rather than launching a full internal investigation.

The report does not give any indication about Fallon’s testimony at the closed-door hearing.

Lanni, the panelist selected by the city, wrote a “pointed opinion” alongside the main report, revealing there was disagreement among the panelists about how long Lugo’s suspension should be, though they ultimately unanimously voted to make it 10 days. He also defended the police department’s decision not to launch an internal investigation, pointing to the criminal investigation already underway and the department’s desire to “restore public trust” following the incident.

“Although we have come to agreement on the suspension, I do not agree with all the information and assessments included in the summary report,” Lanni wrote.

Rourke could not immediately be reached Wednesday for comment on the LEOBOR panel’s decision.

The Black Lives Matter Rhode Island PAC “vehemently condemned” the decision, scheduling a protest for Friday at 6 p.m. outside the Providence Police Department.

“After months of public discourse, we believed that Lugo was not fit to serve the City of Providence and that he would be terminated,” said Harrison Tuttle, the organization’s president. “Previous and current chiefs of police and mayors have had their hands tied in terms of disciplining their officers, enabling distrust between police and the community they serve.”

Tuttle called for the General Assembly to repeal LEOBOR. Both the House and Senate leadership support reforming the law, not repealing it altogether.

According to LEOBOR, police chiefs can only suspend officers for a maximum of two days before the officer has a right to ask for a hearing by the three-member panel, which makes the final decision on punishment.

Perez said this case is an example of why LEOBOR should be reformed. Perez does not support repealing the law altogether, but argues chiefs should be able to hold their officers accountable.

“I think it’s important for a chief to be able to have the latitude to give more than two days [suspension],” Perez said. “Especially when cases are egregious.”

Tim White ( is Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

Steph Machado ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence, politics and more for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.