Philadelphia police commissioner Danielle Outlaw addresses the media outside the Police Administration Building during a news conference in Philadelphia, PA on March 18, 2020. Outlaw announced last week that a Philadelphia SWAT officer who pepper sprayed kneeling protesters will be fired.

Philadelphia police commissioner Danielle Outlaw addresses the media outside the Police Administration Building during a news conference in Philadelphia, PA on March 18, 2020. Outlaw announced last week that a Philadelphia SWAT officer who pepper sprayed kneeling protesters will be fired. (David Maialetti/The Philadelphia Inquirer/TNS)

PHILADELPHIA - The Philadelphia police officer captured on video this month pulling down masks and pepper spraying protesters as they knelt on the Vine Street Expressway is Richard P. Nicoletti, a SWAT officer and a 12-year veteran of the force, officials said Monday.

Nicoletti, 35, has been suspended for 30 days with intent to dismiss, said Sgt. Eric Gripp, a police spokesperson. Commissioner Danielle Outlaw announced the impending firing last week but declined to identify the officer until his suspension began.

Outlaw and Mayor Jim Kenney described Nicoletti's actions on the highway as unacceptable, and District Attorney Larry Krasner has said his office is exploring possible criminal charges.

"I was disgusted," Outlaw said of Nicoletti's actions while addressing reporters last week.

John McNesby, president of the officers' union, said Monday that protesters had created a dangerous situation by entering the highway, and that he wasn't sure if the video of Nicoletti captured the entirety of what might have prompted him to use pepper spray.

"It doesn't look pretty, but I'd like to see the whole video," McNesby said. "And when did we think kneeling on 676 was kind of normal?"

McNesby said the union would defend Nicoletti as his disciplinary process played out. Meanwhile, an online fund-raising effort had attracted nearly $5,000 in donations for Nicoletti as of Monday afternoon.

Nicoletti joined the Police Department in 2008, according to payroll records. As of last year, his salary was $76,187.

A website for the fund-raising effort said Nicoletti was an expectant father and Army veteran who had deployed three times to Iraq and Afghanistan. It said that during the city's recent unrest, Nicoletti was struck in a leg with a brick but continued working.

"Rich was unjustly fired for the performance of his duties," the site said. "His actions have been condemned for political gain and in turn they are throwing their sheepdog to the wolves."

In 2011, Nicoletti was involved in another incident that attracted attention. While responding to a report of a suicidal man inside a North Philadelphia home, police said, Nicoletti was grazed by a bullet as he scuffled with the man over his gun. Nicoletti's partner, Officer Matthew McCarthy, fired two shots that killed the man, Carmelo Winans.

Police said at the time that Nicoletti had tried to subdue Winans because he was holding a knife. Police said Winans then grabbed hold of Nicoletti's gun, prompting McCarthy to fire, with the bullets striking Winans in the chest.

Winans' family filed a lawsuit disputing that version of events and accusing Nicoletti of using excessive force. They contended that Nicoletti attacked Winans after Winans complied with police orders and dropped the knife. They also said he never tried to grab hold of the officer's gun.

In 2014, the city agreed to pay $405,000 to Winans' family and their attorneys.

Nicoletti's father, also named Richard, is also a longtime city police officer. He made headlines in 2018 when, police said, he fatally shot 36-year-old Jeffrey Dennis during a narcotics investigation in Tacony. Video of the incident showed Dennis bumping his car into unmarked police cars as a group of plainclothes officers surrounded his vehicle, guns drawn, and smashed one of its windows with a long-handled hammer.

As Dennis tried to drive away, the elder Nicoletti fired his gun through the driver's side window at point-blank range, killing Dennis.

Nicoletti was cleared of criminal wrongdoing in that incident by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro and remained on the force.

According to Internal Affairs records, the elder Nicoletti also shot someone during a drug investigation in 2012. The records said he had four previous "firearm discharge incidents" before that shooting. Then-Commissioner Richard Ross said those other incidents involved dogs, not people.

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