Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has once again been accused of pushing an “anti-police agenda” involving prosecuting officers for following orders – instead of condemning violent demonstrators and city officials – after another veteran city cop turned himself in Wednesday to face criminal charges related to the unrest that broke out in the city after the death of George Floyd.
Philadelphia SWAT Officer Richard P. Nicoletti, 35, turned himself in Wednesday and will be charged with simple assault, reckless endangerment, official oppression and possession of an instrument of crime. All are misdemeanor charges.
He was captured on video on June 1 pulling down protesters’ masks and pepper-spraying them as they knelt on the Vine Street Expressway. His attorney, Fortunato Perri Jr., said Nicoletti is “being charged with crimes for simply following orders.”
“His unit was ordered by commanders to clear the highway with the approved use of tear gas and pepper spray,” Perri told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “The city’s leadership was given the opportunity to apologize for approving the use of force, but Nicoletti finds himself fired and charged with crimes.”
Comparing Nicoletti’s argument to that used by Nazis to justify war crimes, Krasner said “‘I was following orders’ is not a defense to commit a crime. That’s, what, the Nuremberg defense? That doesn’t work.”
“The larger message is that 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, that this is a country, that still believes in equality,” Krasner said during a news conference at his Center City office. “There’s going to be justice that is evenhanded and no longer at the service of politics.”
Both Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and Mayor Jim Kenney later apologized to peaceful protesters who were trapped on the highway embankment as SWAT officers deployed pepper spray, tear gas, white smoke, beanbag rounds and plastic pellets in the June 1 incident, WCUA reported.
Former Philadelphia Police Department Deputy Dennis Wilson, who was the incident commander on that day, said he was the one to approve the use of tear gas and less-than-lethal force based on information coming through police scanner traffic. He said he did not seek approval from Outlaw first.
A 12-year veteran of the force and former Army Ranger, Nicoletti was suspended from the police department for 30 days with the intent to dismiss after the incident, the Inquirer reported. Several videos showed Nicoletti pull down the mask of one kneeling protester before dousing her with pepper spray and spraying two others.
John McNesby, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, the city's police union, said Krasner was “failing to hold protesters accountable” and, instead, aiming to prosecute cops.
“His top priority is to push his anti-police agenda,” McNesby said. “This double standard of justice is unacceptable to our brave police officers who work tirelessly to keep our city safe.”
Jane Roh, the spokeswoman for the District Attorney’s Office, said McNesby's claim was inaccurate – and that “hundreds” of people have been charged with looting and violent crimes in the wake of the civil unrest that struck the city since George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25, WCAU reported.
“John McNesby insults the majority of honest, decent officers with every new lie he tells,” she said.
This comes about a month after Krasner brought charges against another veteran cop – 54-year-old Joseph Bologna Jr. – after a melee broke out between police officers and protesters near the Benjamin Franklin Parkway also on June 1. Cellphone video showed Bologna shove one protester back before striking another, later identified as a Temple engineering student, with a metal police baton.
Before Bologna turned himself in on aggravated assault and related charges, hundreds – including many cops in uniform – applauded and saluted the 31-year veteran of the force as he left the police union headquarters to head to the precinct to surrender.