A Philadelphia police officer is facing criminal assault charges for allegedly pepper spraying three protesters without provocation, according to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.
Officer Richard Paul Nicoletti is charged with one count of possession of an instrument of crime and three counts each of simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, and official oppression all stemming from a June 1 Black Lives Matter protest, where a large number of demonstrators blocked traffic on the I-676.
Nicoletti was one of the police officers to respond to the scene.
CNN has attempted to reach Nicoletti for comment.
“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,” District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a statement.
Video and photo evidence show Nicoletti carrying a pepper spray can as he approaches three protesters who were sitting or kneeling on the interstate, according to the district attorney’s office.
The DA’s statement alleges that without provocation, Nicoletti sprayed 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, the DA’s statement said.
“Unable to see due to the (pepper) spray, the protester swung at the officer, without contact,” the statement said. “The protestor was left on his feet in close proximity to moving traffic on the other side of 676, unable to see.”
A fourth protester standing nearby was not sprayed. None of the protesters were arrested, according to the district attorney’s office.
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 (DAO) Special Investigations Unit on June 24, the DA’s office said.
In a statement, the president of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5 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.”
McNesby said they will provide “an appropriate defense” for Nicoletti.
CNN has also reached out to the Philadelphia Police Department for comment but has not heard back. The district attorney’s office declined to provide charging documents, citing the active investigation.
Nicoletti is one of several officers to be charged by prosecutors around the country for their actions during protests.
On Monday, an officer in Detroit was charged with three counts of felonious assault in connection with the shooting of three photojournalists with rubber pellets during a May protest.
And last month, Philadelphia Police Staff Inspector Joseph Bologna was seen on cell phone video appearing to strike a Temple University student in the back of the head during a protest. Bologna surrendered, according to a public relations representative working with the police union, and faced multiple assault charges.