Charges Reinstated In Officer's Pepper Spray Use In Protest

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A judge has granted a prosecution request to reinstate charges against a former Philadelphia police officer seen on video lowering the face covering of at least one protester before dousing a group with pepper spray as they knelt on a city interstate during a demonstration in the summer of 2020.

Common Pleas Court Judge Crystal Bryant-Powell reversed a decision by another judge to throw out charges against ex-SWAT officer Richard Paul Nicoletti, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Without explaining her ruling, she ordered Nicoletti held for trial on charges including simple assault, official oppression, and reckless endangerment.

Municipal Court Judge William Austin Meehan earlier this year ruled that Nicoletti had been authorized by his commanders to clear the highway during protests over the death of George Floyd and had been given pepper spray as a tool to do so. “You may not like their methods, that doesn’t criminalize their method,” Meehan said.

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.

Video of the June 2020 protest that circulated widely on social media showed Nicoletti in riot gear approach three protesters kneeling on Interstate 676 and pull down at least one protester’s mask or goggles before pepper-spraying them. He was fired several weeks later.

After the city and state police use of tear gas against demonstrators who had made their way onto the expressway gained national attention, Mayor Jim Kenney and police commissioner Danielle Outlaw apologized, calling the use of force that day “unjustifiable.”

Fraternal Order of Police President John McNesby, however, said the Philadelphia police union would help Nicoletti with his defense. The union has had a confrontational relationship with Krasner’s office, and McNesby accused the prosecutor of “an anti-police agenda.”

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 the following month and the case is pending.