Philadelphia SWAT Officer Richard Paul Nicoletti, 35, has been charged with misdemeanor assault for pepper spraying protesters on Interstate 676 on June 1 during mass demonstrations against racism and police violence.
Nicoletti faces 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.
The SWAT officer was one of the local authorities who responded to a group of protesters who had walked onto I-676 and stopped traffic. At approximately 5:00 Nicoletti, wearing the full SWAT uniform and gas masks, arrived in the westbound lanes of 676 near the 20th Street overpass, investigators said.
Nicoletti was seen on a video pepper spraying four kneeling protesters. Investigators say he sprayed two of the protesters in the face. He also was seen on video pulling down the goggles of one of the protesters, before spraying her again in the face.
Investigators say he then approached the third protester, who was sitting andprotecting his face. Nicoletti threw the protester onto his back, spraying him with pepper spray while he was lying down. Unable to see, the protester swung at the officer but did not make contact. The fourth protester, who was standing nearby, was not sprayed. None of the four were taken into police custody, investigators said.
District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a statement that Nicoltetti´s actions are against the constitutional rights of free speech and assembly.“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 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.”
Nicoletti turned himself in and was suspended 30 days on June 26, said Officer Eric McLaurin, a Philadelphia Police Department spokesman.
The charges against the officer have produced reactions in the police. John McNesby, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 union, reacted angrily to the charges.
“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,” 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.”