Federal prosecutors have dropped hate-crime assault charges against Frank Nucera Jr., a former Bordentown police chief accused of slamming the head of a handcuffed Black suspect against a door jamb in 2016.
The decision comes nearly three weeks after a jury deadlocked in the case for a second time and a judge declared a mistrial. Legal experts had widely speculated that Nucera would not face a third trial.
U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler signed an order Monday to dismiss the charges.
”I think it’s the right decision,” defense attorney Rocco Cipparone said later in an interview. “A third trial was not going to produce a different result. Enough is enough.”
In a letter to the judge, Philip R. Sellinger, the newly appointed U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, said, ”the government has determined that a third trial” was “not in the interests of the United States.”
Nucera was convicted in his first trial in October 2019 on a single charge of lying to the FBI and sentenced to 28 months in prison. He remained free on his own recognizance pending the outcome of the other charges in the case.
The dismissal means that Nucera could be ordered to report to prison in 30 days, unless Cipparone seeks a delay as they wait for the outcome of their pending appeal. Lorber said she would ask the Bureau of Prisons to schedule a surrender date.
Cipparone said Nucera, once a highly respected veteran law enforcement officer for three decades in his predominantly white Burlington County community of about 11,000, was relieved by Tuesday’s decision.
“No one wants to have to go through three trials,” Cipparone said. “One is stressful enough.”
Nucera, 64, had been charged with federal hate crimes and deprivation of civil rights in connection with an incident at a Bordentown hotel when police arrested Timothy Stroye after he allegedly had not paid his bill. If convicted on those charges, Nucera could have faced up to 10 years in prison.
Prosecutors alleged during the trial that Nucera held a deep animosity toward African Americans and that hostility led him to strike Stroye, 18, of Trenton during the hotel encounter. Officers said Stroye was not resisting.
Nucera had a history of making derogatory remarks about Black people, saying he wanted to unleash police dogs on spectators at high school football games, authorities said.
During both trials, Lorber played profanity-laced excerpts for the jury from the 81 secret recordings made by fellow officers in which Nucera could be heard using a racial slur. In one, Nucera says, “These [N-word] are like ISIS, they have no value. They should line them all up and mow ‘em down. I’d like to be on the firing line. I could do it.”
Only one of the 12 jurors on the retrial was Black; the jury for Nucera’s first trial had nine white and three Black people.
In a statement, Marcus Sibley, president of the Southern Burlington County NAACP Chapter, said he was not surprised by the dismissal. “This is New Jersey. This is America.”
Cipparone contended Nucera was set up by disgruntled officers who wanted him out as chief. He urged the jury not to punish Nucera “for his difficult, ugly, and embarrassing words.”
After deliberating for more than 16 hours over three days, the jury said it was deadlocked, and Kugler granted a defense request for a mistrial. Prosecutors didn’t object.
Glenn Zeitz, a veteran Moorestown attorney who has followed the case, believes the racial makeup of the jury and poorly made recordings by police that didn’t follow FBI protocols made the case “doomed from the beginning.”
“I’m surprised they tried it a second time,” said Zeitz.
A juror who asked not to be identified said the group was not convinced that Nucera knocked Stroye’s head into the door jamb. The jury heard testimony from rank-and-file officers who implicated Nucera.
In a 2017 interview with The Inquirer, Stroye recounted his encounter with Nucera and the officers. He said he recalled hearing someone say “chief” during the incident but couldn’t identify the person who struck him.
“I thought they were going to shoot me,” he said.
Stroye died in January. His mother, Falicia, said she believes the jury may have been able to reach a verdict if it could have heard from her son. She said the decision by prosecutors not to try Nucera again was “so not fair at all for a monster.”
“There was no justice served,” she said after the verdict.
Nucera resigned as township administrator and from the 25-member police department in January 2017 after learning he was under investigation. His annual pension of $105,992 was frozen.