Richard Nicoletti, 36, was among the state and local authorities who responded to a large group of protesters who had walked onto I-676 and stopped traffic on June 1, 2020.
At approximately 5:00 p.m. that day, the SWAT unit, including Nicoletti, wearing the full SWAT uniform and gas masks, arrived in the westbound lanes of 676 near the 20th Street overpass, investigators said.
In video of the incident, Nicoletti was seen carrying a pepper spray can while he approached four kneeling protesters. Investigators say he then sprayed two of the protesters in the face. He also was seen on video pulling down the goggles of one of the protesters, before spraying her again in the face.
Investigators say he then proceeded to the third protester, who was sitting hunched over to protect his face with his legs crossed. Nicoletti reached down, grabbed and threw the protester onto his back, spraying him with pepper spray while he was lying down and standing back up. Unable to see, the protester swung at the officer but did not make contact, investigators said.
The fourth protester, who was standing nearby, was not sprayed. None of the four were taken into police custody.
In May 2021, a Philadelphia judge dismissed the charges, saying Nicoletti was following orders by his commanders.
But on Tuesday, a Court of Common Pleas order granted the Commonwealth's motion to proceed on criminal charges, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office announced.
"I am grateful today that a Common Pleas judge watched the same video millions of us watched last summer and agreed that this matter should be pursued and resolved in a court of law," said DA Larry Krasner in a statement.
Nicoletti is facing charges of possession of an instrument of crime and three counts each of simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, and official oppression.
FOP Lodge #5 President John McNesby released this statement on Tuesday:
"Once again, it must be re-election time for DA Larry Krasner as he continues to issue press releases on filing criminal charges against Philadelphia police officers. Krasner refuses to hold dozens of unlawful protesters accountable, those who set fire and looted our great city. This double-standard of justice is unacceptable. We will continue to provide an appropriate defense for officer Nicoletti as this case moves forward."