By Ayanna Gandhi
PHILADELPHIA – Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner Tuesday announced criminal proceedings against Philadelphia Police Officer Richard Paul Nicoletti for his actions during a Black Lives Matter demonstration on PA Interstate 676 on June 1.
The District Attorney’s Office reported, “Video evidence and witness statements show Officer Nicoletti assaulting three peaceful protesters with Oleoresin Capsicum (“OC”) spray, often called pepper spray. Video and photo evidence of the assaults have been shared widely in news reports and on social media since the day of the incident.”
The report reads, “On June 1st, Officer Nicoletti was assigned to the Philadelphia SWAT Unit and deployed to Center City for protest detail. He was among the state and local police response to a large group of protesters who had caused traffic to stop on I-676. At approximately 5:00 p.m., the SWAT Unit, including Officer Nicoletti, wearing the full SWAT uniform and gas masks, arrived in the westbound lanes of 676 near the 20th Street overpass.”
They noted that video “shared on social media show the protest was peaceful. Nonetheless, tear gas was deployed – causing physical harm, panic, and confusion. Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw have since publicly apologized for the deployment of tear gas on civilians and have issued a moratorium on its use to disperse crowds of people under certain conditions.”
Once the tear gas was deployed, “many protesters and several journalists scrambled to get off 676 and away from the tear gas, [and] one or more canisters landed in close proximity to the three complainants, who were passively sitting or kneeling on the highway, and another protester standing close by. Each time, a protester picked up the canister or object to throw it away from the group. There is no indication that a thrown canister hit an officer or state trooper.”
The report emphasized there was no proven aggression toward police, but “Officer Nicoletti was observed carrying an OC spray can while he approached the four protesters. Without provocation, Nicoletti sprayed OC in the faces of two of the kneeling protesters. He physically pulled down goggles one of the protesters was wearing for protection, and sprayed her again in the face.”
Officer Nicoletti then “proceeded to the third protester, who was sitting hunched over to protect his face with his legs crossed. Officer Nicoletti reached down, grabbed and violently threw the protester onto his back, continually spraying him with OC while he was lying down and standing back up. Unable to see due to the OC spray, the protester swung at the officer, without contact. The protestor was left on his feet in close proximity to moving traffic on the other side of 676, unable to see.”
The report added, “The fourth protester who was standing nearby was not sprayed. None of the four were taken into police custody. None of the three protesters who were assaulted were offered medical treatment, and all were left to walk on 676 while their eyesight was impaired. All required assistance from other protesters to safely get off 676.”
When these videos were reviewed, the Philadelphia Police Department Internal Affairs Division initiated an investigation, and referred information regarding Officer Nicoletti’s use of force to the District Attorney’s Office (DAO) Special Investigations Unit on June 24.
The DA said that following further investigation, including interviews with witnesses while taking precautions against COVID-19, the DAO has “charged Officer Nicoletti with one count of Possession of an Instrument of Crime (M1) and three counts each of Simple Assault (M2), Recklessly Endangering Another Person (M2), and Official Oppression (M2).”
When announcing the charges, District Attorney Krasner told the city, “Thanks to the investigative work of Philadelphia Police Internal Affairs and careful, additional investigation done by the DAO Special Investigations Unit, we are moving forward today with evenhanded justice. Great care has gone into our factual investigation to get the truth. We are also keeping our sworn oath to uphold the Constitution.
“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.
“Let’s be clear on who is the source of governmental and police power: People are the source of that power — the people’s votes and the people’s taxes. Let’s be clear on who built these highways and streets: 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!!”
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