With the omnipresence of cell phone cameras, everyone becomes a videographer or photographer when an event takes place. Over the past few months, several videos spread virally, recording police violence against individuals. These videos and the behavior have spurred protests across the country, despite the pandemic, as individuals and communities ask for police reform. Some states, like Pennsylvania, have recently passed legislation aimed at reform. In fact, in the middle of July, the district attorney in Philadelphia charged a police officer for an activity that occurred in June at one of the protests.
June Protest, July Charges
In early June, protestors captured a video of an officer that spraying a chemical defense spray directly in the faces of protesters who were kneeling on the ground. Before discharging the spray, the video appears to show the officer pulling down the masks protecting their faces. The incident took place on the Vine Street Expressway.
On July 22nd, Philadelphia District Attorney, Larry Krasner stated that the officer in question, Richard P Nicoletti, “will face charges of simple assault, reckless endangerment, official oppression, and possession of an instrument of crime.” This is not Krasner's first time charging a member of the police department. In June, he charged Joseph Bologna with aggravated assault, simple assault, possession of an instrument of crime, and recklessly endangering another person.
According to Krasner’s statement, Nicoletti was seen “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.”
According to a Philadelphia CBS website, Nicoletti's attorney released this statement, which reads in part: “Richard 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. The city's leadership was given the opportunity to apologize for approving the orders and use of force but Nicoletti finds himself fired and charged with crimes.”
What Happens To a Police Officer Who Is Charged With a Crime?
When a district attorney brings criminal charges against a police officer, the process is very similar to regular criminal cases. The DA will gather what they need to build a case, will communicate with the officer's lawyer, and either agree on a plea deal or go to trial. Depending on the plea agreement or on the outcome of the case, a law enforcement officer might face penalties such as fines or jail time. Additionally, there can be collateral consequences
For example, the simple assault that Nicoletti is charged with carries up to 2 years of prison, and a fine of up to $5000 fine, according to Title 18, § 2701
If you are a law enforcement official, qualified immunity, which the Supreme Court recently decided not to revisit, will protect you from civil cases.
However, the impact of criminal charges can ripple out in a police officer's life. If you're a law enforcement official who's been charged with a crime, it's important to understand all of the possible implications. The Lento Law Firm can help you navigate this challenge. Call us today at (888) 535-3686 or contact us online.