A GOP State Senate Candidate Allegedly Punched A Democratic Opponent At An Abortion Rights Rally

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A Republican candidate for the Rhode Island state Senate was arrested after allegedly punching a Democratic opponent in the face at an abortion rights rally outside the Statehouse on Friday.

Jeann Lugo, 34, has been charged with disorderly conduct and simple assault. In a tweet before he deleted his account, he said he “will not be running for any office this Fall." The former candidate is also a police officer with the Providence Police Department and has been put on leave. He was off duty at the time of the protest.

“The officer has served for 3 yrs and placed on administrative leave w/pay this morning, pending a criminal investigation and administrative review,” the police department said in a tweet Saturday.

Video of the incident was captured by a local journalist and posted to Twitter. In the video, a verbal argument between protesters and counterprotesters escalates, and a counterprotester is punched in the face. That incident incites more chaos, and the video then appears to show Lugo punching Democratic candidate Jennifer Rourke.

Rourke tweeted the portion of the video showing the alleged assault, adding, “I'm a reproductive rights organizer & State Senate candidate. Last night, after speaking at our Roe rally, my Republican opponent – a police officer – violently attacked me,” she wrote. “This is what it is to be a Black woman running for office. I won't give up.”

She told the Associated Press that before she was hit, she had been trying to escort out a counterprotester who'd agreed to leave. She and Lugo were both running for their party's nomination for the same state Senate seat, though she told the AP they hadn't interacted before.

"I’m disappointed he chose to use violence in this way," she told the AP. "As a police officer, he’s trained to deescalate. He did not do what he was trained to do."

An attorney for Jeann Lugo said in a statement, "There is far more to what occurred regarding the incident than what is being reported. We are working diligently to identify and speak to witnesses and we continue to obtain and analyze other video footage taken that night. Unfortunately, our approach is in direct contrast to the one taken by the media which, as usual, was to hastily publish a story and condemn Officer Lugo based on seconds of edited video devoid of any context. Thanks to that, the safety of Officer Lugo and his family has been threatened by extremists on social media."

The statement continued, "Jeann Lugo has been a tremendous police officer in his time with the City of Providence. He is a dedicated father and husband and a real asset to his community. He trusts the process and believes the actual facts will exonerate him."

The Providence Police Department and Rourke didn’t immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.

Two other people were also arrested at the protest on suspicion of disorderly conduct. Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee on Sunday called the violence "outrageous" and said the individuals responsible must be held accountable.

Lugo has claimed that Rourke had become physical with him, which she has denied, the Providence Journal reported. The video also doesn't show Rourke acting violently.

"I'm not going to deny," Lugo told the Journal of the punching allegation. "It was very chaotic, so I can't really tell you right now. Everything happened very fast."

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