Providence Rhode Island police officer, Jeann Lugo, who is white, has been found not guilty of punching his Black female political opponent in the face multiple times.
On Wednesday, the 35-year-old former candidate for state Senate was acquitted by a Warwick District Court Judge, citing the officer did not act in an unreasonable manner.
In the decision, the court relied on footage showing that Lugo jumped into the fray. Jennifer Rourke appeared to try to pull him back. Lugo eventually punched Rourke repeatedly. The court acknowledged that Lugo struck Rourke, 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.
Lugo’s attorney, Dan Griffin, applauded the court’s decision. “He never should have been arrested in the first place,” Griffin said, describing Lugo as “a kid who wanted to serve the city” and was railroaded. Griffin had argued that though off duty when the assault occurred, his client was within the scope of his duties as a law enforcement officer, despite being in plain clothes.
Agreeing with the defense, Judge Houlihan said, “He has a duty to maintain the public order,” describing the “potential for further violence as “imminent,” the judge said. Prosecutors hinged their case on Lugo’s failure to identify himself as law enforcement, but according to use-of-force instructor Lt. David Bissonnette – it wasn’t required.
The former candidate for RI Lt. Governor, was reportedly chasing a suspect who had allegedly assaulted an independent journalist and chaos agent, Josh Mello – who was agitating protestors –when Rourke got involved. In pursuit of an unidentified man wearing a green jacket, Houlihan said that the assault on Rourke was justified to prevent further violence.
“The judge found Lugo’s actions were not unreasonable, saying they were in line with keeping public order and therefore justified,” WPRI reported.
Though still employed with the Providence PD, the department will hold a hearing to determine the three-year veteran officer’s future as a police officer. After the incident in June, Chief of Police Col. Hugh Clements called for his subordinate’s termination. “This kind of quick judgment destroys the morale and trust of officers,” the Providence police union said in criticism of the handling of the case. “In this case, the administration should have reserved judgment until all the facts and evidence were established.”
A statement from Rhode Island’s Black Lives Matter Political Action Committee released a statement condemning the judge’s decision saying of Rourke, “the justice system failed her.”
Today is a clear example of how policing in our state and capital 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.
Watch the clip here:
Original reporting by Melanie DaSilva at WPRI Providence 12 and Amy Russo at Providence Journal.
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