Mistrial declared in case against former Philadelphia SWAT officer accused of pepper spraying protesters

A mistrial has been declared due to a hung jury in the case against Richard Nicoletti, a former Philadelphia SWAT officer who was captured on video pepper spraying protesters from close range during the 2020 George Floyd unrest. 

Nicoletti faced charges of possession of an instrument of crime, three counts of simple assault, reckless endangerment, and official oppression. The Philadelphia District Attorney's office says they plan to retry the case. 

A video of Nicoletti dressed in riot gear approaching three protesters kneeling on Interstate 676 on June 1, 2020, pulling down at least one protester's mask or goggles, then pepper-spraying them, was circulated widely on social media and was included in several news stories about the national police response to demonstrations.

The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office alleged that Nicoletti assaulted the protesters nearly three years ago. His defense, meanwhile, claimed the disgraced officer was doing his job. 

Closing arguments were made Thursday, after which the jury began deliberations. Those deliberations continued with an 11 member jury Monday after a juror was excused for personal reasons during deliberations on Friday and the two remaining alternatives were unavailable. Both sides agreed to move on with an 11 member panel. 

In June of 2021, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said she was "extremely disturbed and quite frankly sickened beyond description" of the pepper spraying video first posted by the New York Times.

"I have never believed tear gas was an effective tool when I’ve seen it used in other cities in protests it always seemed to me to make situations worse and it has," Mayor Jim Kenney previously said.

Nicoletti's defense claimed that he did not break the law and was only acting on the orders of his superiors on the police force during the tumultuous incident on I-676. A Pennsylvania State Police Officer who took the stand on Wednesday told jurors that SWAT officers, including Nicoletti, protected him from an angry crowd.

Christina Sorenson, one of the protesters pepper sprayed by Nicoletti, took the stand for the prosecution on Wednesday. She told the jury after she was pepper sprayed she "lost all sense of herself, crying and screaming for help." 

FOP Lodge 5 President John McNesby released a statement Monday afternoon: 

"The double-standard of justice continues with DA Larry Krasner. He refuses to hold accountable the dozens of unlawful protesters and offenders who looted our great city, yet he works overtime to demonize a decorated, police officer for doing his job under very difficult conditions.  The FOP and its members will continue its unwavering support of officer Nicoletti."