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Philadelphia District Attorney Charges Officer With Pepper Spraying Protesters

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 25: Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner speaks to a reporter at of the election party of public defender Tiffany Caban moments before she claimed victory in the in the Queens District Attorney Democratic Primary election, June 25, 2019 in the Queens borough of New York City. Running on a progressive platform that includes decriminalizing sex work and closing the Rikers Island jail, Caban narrowly defeated Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and scored a shocking victory for city's the progressive grassroots network and criminal justice movement (Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images)

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has announced assault charges against a police officer who pepper sprayed Black Lives Matter protesters in June. The move came just days after Krasner vowed to charge “anyone, including federal law enforcement, who unlawfully assaults and kidnaps people.”

In a statement released Wednesday, Krasner announced charges against Philadelphia Police Officer Richard Paul Nicoletti for assaulting “three peaceful protestors” with pepper spray during a Black Lives Matter demonstration on PSA Interstate 676 on June 1.  According to Krasner, Nicoletti was part of a SWAT Unit deployed in “full SWAT uniform and gas masks” to respond to protesters who had stopped traffic on the interstate.

Krasner said that despite media reports of a “peaceful” protest, officers deployed tear gas causing “physical harm, panic, and confusion.”  As protesters scrambled to get off the interstate, the three complainants were “passively sitting or kneeling on the highway” when one or more tear gas canisters landed near them.  Each time a canister landed near the group, a protestor picked it up and threw it.  “There is no indication that a thrown canister hit an officer or state trooper,” Krasner said.

According to Krasner’s statement, Nicoletti sprayed the faces of two of the kneeling protestors “without provocation.” He pulled down the goggles one was wearing for protection to spray her again.  Nicoletti then approached a third seated protester, “reached down, grabbed and violently threw the protestor onto his back, continually spraying him” with pepper spray.  “Unable to see,” that protestor swung at the officer, making no contact.

Nicoletti was charged with misdemeanor assault, reckless endangerment, possession of an instrument of crime, and one count of official oppression. The latter charges are both misdemeanors.

In a statement reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Nicoletti’s lawyer, Fortunato Perri Jr., said Nicoletti was “being charged with crimes for simply following orders.”

Krasner put the matter differently.

“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,” Krasner said.

The charges against Nicoletti followed Krasner’s response Monday to the Trump Administration’s suggestion that it may deploy federal law enforcement to American cities including Philadelphia.

“My dad volunteered and served in World War II to fight fascism,” Krasner said, “so we would not have an American president brutalizing and kidnapping Americans for exercising their constitutional rights and trying to make America a better place, which is what patriots do. Anyone, including federal law enforcement, who unlawfully assaults and kidnaps people will face criminal charges from my office.”

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw have 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.

[photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images]

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