Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has charged a SWAT officer with misdemeanor assault for pepper-spraying protesters during a June 1 highway demonstration.
Officer Richard Paul Nicoletti, 35, was charged with several misdemeanor charges on Wednesday, including “three counts each of simple assault, recklessly endangering another person and official oppression, as well as one count of possession of an instrument of crime,” NBC Philadelphia reported.
Philly @DA_LarryKrasner has charged @PhillyPolice Officer Richard Paul Nicoletti, seen on video pepper spraying protesters on I-676, with assault, possession of an instrument of crime, “official oppression.”
“These streets come from and belong to the people,” says the DA. pic.twitter.com/wnzsj70JeQ
— Alex Silverman (@AlexSilverman) July 22, 2020
“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,” Krasner said in a statement, according to NBC Philadelphia. “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.”
The DA’s statement went on to contend that people “are the source” of police and governmental power.
“Let’s be clear on who built these highways and streets,” the statement continued. “These streets come from and belong to the people. In the words of generations of peaceful protesters, committed to improving our country, which is what patriots do: ‘Whose streets!? Our streets!!'”
Nicoletti “was suspended for 30 days with intent to dismiss” last month, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Krasner contends that the SWAT officer sprayed two protesters who were already kneeling, then pulled one female protester’s googles down and sprayed her again, then “violently” threw another protester down and sprayed him, NBC Philadelphia reported.
The prosecutor said the officer’s actions caused “physical harm, panic, and confusion.”
Demonstrations against police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd reportedly spilled into Interstate 676 that day, prompting Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and other city leaders to give police pre-approval to use tear gas if officers felt it was warranted, according to NBC Philadelphia. Kenney later apologized and blamed faulty information for his decision.
Former Philadelphia Police Department Deputy Dennis Wilson, the incident commander, reportedly gave the go-ahead on the ground for the use of tear gas without seeking the prior approval of Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and has since accepted a voluntary demotion to chief inspector.
The DA’s action sparked a tense exchange with the city’s police union, according to NBC10 reporter Lauren Mayk. (RELATED: Philadelphia Gun Shop Owner Shoots, Kills Looter Who Broke Into Store With Group)
“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,” Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 union 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.”
To which District Attorney office spokeswoman Jane Roh responded by claiming that “hundreds” of people have been charged for looting.
“John McNesby insults the majority of honest, decent officers with every new lie he tells,” said Roh.