A judge has allowed criminal charges to be reinstated against a Philadelphia SWAT officer fired last year after pepper spraying kneeling protesters during mass racial justice demonstrations.
Common Pleas Court Judge Crystal Bryant-Powell reversed a decision by another judge to throw out charges against ex-SWAT officer Richard Paul Nicoletti. He once again 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.
Nicoletti’s attorney, Fortunato Perri Jr., declined comment after Tuesday's ruling. District Attorney Larry Krasner hailed the ruling and vowed to proceed with criminal prosecution.
“Speaking broadly, public confidence in institutions is eroded when people are told by powerful, largely unaccountable figures that something they’ve seen with their own eyes did not actually occur, or is only a problem when just certain people are the doers,” Krasner said in a written statement.
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Nicoletti is accused of spraying multiple protesters on June 1, 2020, after they walked onto Interstate 676 in Center City during widespread demonstrations following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died handcuffed after white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes in May of last year.
Nicoletti turned himself in and was suspended 30 days on June 26, 2020, and later fired.
Krasner said video evidence, as well as eyewitness testimony, showed Nicoletti spraying protesters and causing “physical harm, panic, and confusion.”
The officer sprayed two kneeling protesters – pulling one's goggles down before spraying her again – before “violently” throwing a sitting protester onto his back and spraying him as well, Krasner said.
The use of force against protesters in Philadelphia sparked national attention and later prompted an apology from both Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and Mayor Jim Kenney.
“That police officer walked towards us, and that’s actually all I remember. I blacked out," said Katherine Miller, who was sprayed and is now a plaintiff in one of multiple lawsuits against the city.
Kevin Mincey, an attorney representing Miller and other plaintiffs, said Nicoletti was out to "exact revenge" and that his clients are now “dealing with the emotional distress that comes with experiencing something like this.”
John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 union, characterized Krasner’s announcement of the reinstated charges against Nicoletti, as well as other press releases announcing charges against police officers, as a politically motivated move to boost his reelection chances.
The police union has regularly sparred with the district attorney and earlier this year backed primary challenger Carlos Vega, whom Krasner defeated ahead of November’s general election.
“Krasner refuses to hold dozens of unlawful protesters accountable, those who set fire and looted our great city,” McNesby said. “This double-standard of justice is unacceptable. We will continue to provide an appropriate defense for officer Nicoletti as this case moves forward.”
A judge dismissed charges against another officer for actions during the protests, ruling that prosecutors had failed to provide evidence that Staff Inspector Joseph Bologna’s use of a baton constituted a crime. Krasner re-filed charges and the case is pending.