A Philadelphia police officer has been charged with three counts of simple assault after video purportedly showed him spraying peaceful, kneeling protesters with pepper spray during protests against police brutality, officials said.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner announced the charges against Officer Richard Nicoletti, 35, on Wednesday.
Nicoletti was seen on social media videos on June 1 spraying the three protesters "without provocations," according to a statement from Krasner's office.
He was also seen physically pulling down the goggles of a protester who was kneeling in the street and spraying her in the face and "violently" throwing another protester, who was sitting hunched over to protect his face, onto his back and "continually spraying him with [pepper spray] while he was lying down and standing back up," the statement said.
The protester, unable to see because of the pepper spray, swung at the officer without contact and was left on his feet in close proximity to moving traffic on the other side of the highway, according to Krasner and online videos.
The incident took place during the protests against police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was killed by Minneapolis police in May.
The protesters had caused a traffic stop on 1-676 in Philadelphia around 5 p.m. that day, prompting state and local police to respond.
Nicoletti was among those to respond.
Although the protest was peaceful, Krasner's office said "tear gas was deployed, causing physical harm, panic and confusion."
While many scrambled to get away from the tear gas, three protesters remained kneeling and another stood closely by.
As the canisters of tear gas landed near them, the protesters would push them away.
"There is no indication that a thrown canister hit an officer or state trooper," according to Krasner's office, who said it was then that Nicoletti approached the four protesters and pepper sprayed them.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw have since publicly apologized for the deployment of tear gas during the protest and declared to end the use of pepper spray to disperse crowds under certain conditions.
The three protesters who were sprayed were offered medical treatment and eventually made it off I-676. The protester who was standing when Nicoletti approached the group was not sprayed.
"The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office will not make excuses for crimes committed by law enforcement that demean the democratic freedoms so many Americans have fought and died to preserve," Krasner said in a statement.
John McNesby, the president of FOP Lodge 5, the Philadelphia police union, said in a statement to ABC News that Krasner was "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," McNesby said.
The union will provide defense for Nicoletti, according to the statement.
In addition to the simple assault charges, Nicoletti was charged with possession of an instrument of crime, recklessly endangering another person and official oppression.
The Philadelphia Police Department did not immediately respond to ABC News for comment. Nicoletti was suspended from the department for 30 days with intent to dismiss, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Philly officer who pepper sprayed peaceful protesters charged with assault originally appeared on abcnews.go.com