A former Philadelphia police officer seen on video using pepper spray on Black Lives Matter protesters had his charges dismissed Monday, according to court documents.
Municipal Court Judge William Austin Meehan Jr. dismissed the case after he determined Richard Paul Nicoletti had not committed a crime, Nicoletti’s attorney Fortunato Perri Jr. said, declining to comment further.
Nicoletti had been authorized by commanders to clear a highway and was given pepper spray as a means of doing so, Meehan said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“You may not like their methods, that doesn’t criminalize their methods,” Meehan said.
District Attorney Larry Krasner said he would refile charges. “The people want and deserve justice and change, including police accountability, even though some institutional players are in denial. We will stay the course.”
Court documents show that Nicoletti was officially charged with simple assault, recklessly endangering another person and official oppression. These charges stemmed from a Black Lives Matter protest last June, where a large number of demonstrators blocked traffic on the I-676. All of those charges are now dismissed
Prosecutors last year alleged that without provocation, Nicoletti shot pepper spray in the faces of two protesters as they kneeled, pulling down the goggles one wore to spray her in the face. He also “grabbed and violently threw” a third protester who had been sitting “hunched over” to protect his face and then continually sprayed him, according to the statement from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.
A fourth protester standing nearby was not sprayed, and none of the involved protesters were arrested, the district attorney’s office said.
The Philadelphia Police Department, which suspended and then fired Nicoletti, said in a statement that if no additional charges are filed, he will have the right to contest his dismissal due to the union’s collective bargaining agreement.
The local police union, Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5, declined to comment.
In a statement last July, the president of the lodge criticized the district attorney’s decision to charge the officer.
“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,” John McNesby said. “This double-standard of justice is unacceptable to our brave police officers who work tirelessly to keep our city safe.”
The incident occurred amid protests over killings by police following the death of George Floyd.
Video shared online prompted the Philadelphia Police Department Internal Affairs Division to open an investigation and refer information regarding Nicoletti’s alleged use of force to the District Attorney’s Office Special Investigations Unit on June 24, the DA’s office said last year.
“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,” Krasner said in a statement at the time.