Cop who pepper sprayed Black Lives Matter protesters charged with assault

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UPDATED: 3:30 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A Philadelphia police officer has been charged with assault and related offenses arising from an incident in which he was observed pepper spraying three Black Lives Matter demonstrators during unrest in the city last month, which followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office confirmed Wednesday that Officer Richard Nicoletti will face several charges for the incident — which was caught on video — including possession of an instrument of crime, and three counts each of assault, reckless endangerment and official oppression.

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw previously announced that Nicoletti had been suspended with the intent to dismiss for the June 1 clash, when a massive group of people marched onto I-676.

News media and video posted to social media showed a peaceful demonstration, but police deployed tear gas into the civilian crowd anyway. Mayor Jim Kenney and Outlaw have since publicly apologized for the action and other tactics used to disperse the crowd.

According to a statement from District Attorney Larry Krasner 's office, Nicoletti was seen spraying two kneeling protesters in the face without provocation, even pulling down the goggles one of them was wearing to spray her again. The statement continues to describe Nicoletti approaching a protester who was hunched over to protect his face, throwing him onto his back, spraying him while he was down, and leaving him standing near moving traffic on the other side of the expressway, unable to see.

“We are restoring trust between communities and the officers who are there to serve them by making sure everyone understands that this is a city and this is a country that believes in equality, and that there’s going to be justice that’s even-handed and no longer at the service of politics,” Krasner said Wednesday afternoon. “The larger message is that we are lifting up good and decent and hard-working police officers in Philadelphia by knocking ones who commit crimes out of the way.”

Nicoletti said he was only following orders.

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 President John McNesby blasted the decision to file charges.

In a public statement, the union said, "Once again DA Larry Krasner is only charging Philadelphia police officers following the recent unrest in the city.

"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. This double-standard of justice is unacceptable to our brave police officers who work tirelessly to keep our city safe."

Krasner said his office “looked at specific definitions of the charges, and we did not let strong feelings or emotion get in the way of the legal analysis.”

The union said it will defend Nicoletti in court.

Nicoletti was released after posting bail.