Philadelphia, PA – Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner on Wednesday announced charges against a Philadelphia SWAT officer who was filmed pepper-spraying protesters who had blocked a highway.
Krasner charged Philadelphia Police Officer Richard Nicoletti with three counts each of simple assault, reckless endangerment, official oppression, and possession of an instrument of crime in connection with his actions on June 1, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“The complaint alleges that Officer Nicoletti broke the laws he was sworn to uphold and that his actions interfered with Philadelphians’ and Americans’ peaceful exercise of their sacred constitutional rights of free speech and assembly,” the district attorney said in a statement, according to WCAU.
“The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office will not make excuses for crimes committed by law enforcement that demean the democratic freedoms so many Americans have fought and died to preserve,” Krasner added.
The incident occurred at about 5 p.m. on June 1 when George Floyd protesters marched onto Interstate 676 and blocked traffic.
Fortunato Perri, Jr, an attorney for Officer Nicoletti, said his client was just following orders at the protest, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
“His unit was ordered by commanders to clear the highway with the approved use of tear gas and pepper spray,” Perri said. “The city’s leadership was given the opportunity to apologize for approving the use of force, but Nicoletti finds himself fired and charged with crimes.”
He said that Officer Nicoletti, a 12-year veteran of the police force and former Army Ranger, “is being charged with crimes for simply following orders,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Krasner said video from the incident showed Officer Nicoletti spraying protesters with pepper spray in a manner that caused “physical harm, panic, and confusion,” WCAU reported.
He said the officer sprayed two protesters who were on their knees, and then pulled down the goggles on one of them and sprayed her face again.
Krasner said Officer Nicoletti then pushed a sitting protester onto his back and sprayed him with pepper spray, too, WCAU reported.
The incident sparked additional protests and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw apologized to the community for the use of force against the protesters.
Philadelphia Police Officer Eric McLaurin, a spokesman for the department, said Officer Nicoletti was suspended in June for 30 days in connection with the incident, WCAU reported.
Officer McLaurin said the department planned to terminate the officer.
But the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) is backing Officer Nicoletti even though his department failed to do so, WCAU reported.
“Krasner refuses to hold unlawful protesters accountable, those who set fire and looted our great city…His top priority is to push his anti-police agenda,” Philadelphia FOP President John McNesby said in a statement. “This double-standard of justice is unacceptable to our brave police officers who work tirelessly to keep our city safe.”
The union boss said protesters had created a dangerous situation when they attempted to block traffic on the highway.
McNesby said the police union “will provide an appropriate defense for Officer Nicoletti as this process moves forward,” WTVD reported.
The district attorney took exception to the FOP president’s remarks about his failure to charge violent protesters.
Krasner claimed 1,000 people had been arrested for various offenses during the protests and riots, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
But he said vandalism and looting weren’t as serious as police officers “stepping all over sacred Constitutional rights.
The attorney for Officer Nicoletti said his client “looks forward to being exonerated so that he can continue to protect and serve the law abiding members of our city,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.