Ex-Bordentown police chief Frank Nucera Jr. faces a retrial this week on hate-crime assault charges
Jury selection begins Monday in the trial of Nucera, accused of slamming a Black teenager against a door during an arrest.
A former South Jersey police chief secretly recorded by fellow officers saying Blacks are “like ISIS” and deserve to die will head to trial again this week on hate-crime charges in connection with the assault of a handcuffed Black teenager in 2016.
Frank M. Nucera Jr., 64, the former police chief of Bordentown Township, faces a second trial in federal court in Camden in a case that has made international headlines.
The jury in his first trial, which ended in October 2019, found Nucera guilty of lying to the FBI but was deadlocked on two remaining counts of hate-crime assault and deprivation of civil rights. U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler declared a mistrial. Nucera rejected a plea agreement this past summer, setting the stage for a second trial.
» READ MORE: Bordentown police chief charged with hate crimes and saying blacks are ‘like ISIS’ heads to trial (from September 2019)
Federal authorities say Nucera had “a significant history of making racist comments concerning African Americans,” spoke about joining a firing squad to kill them, and used police dogs to intimidate Black spectators at high school basketball games. Nucera was the longtime chief in the predominantly white community, just south of Trenton.
The charges stem from a Sept. 1, 2016, episode during which, prosecutors say, Nucera assaulted a handcuffed Black teenager, Timothy Stroye, when he slammed his face against a door jamb while Stroye was in police custody at a Bordentown hotel. After the assault, authorities say, Nucera made a series of racist remarks that were secretly recorded at the police station by an officer in his department.
His trial will begin Monday with jury selection. Opening arguments are expected Friday. The trial is expected to last about two to three weeks.
After a pool of 130 prospective jurors complete a questionnaire, both sides will on Tuesday begin to explore their answers on topics including defunding the police, the Black Lives Matter movement, and race relations.
”Do you believe that discrimination against African Americans exists today in the U.S.?” one question asks. “Have you been the victim of a racially motivated crime?” asks another.
The questions are key because the prosecution plans to use more than 100 hours of recorded conversations in which Nucera repeatedly is heard using racial slurs. 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.”
The potential witness list includes many of the same people from the first trial, including Bordentown Township Police Sgt. Nathan Roohr, who secretly recorded his boss for nine months. Roohr said he was alarmed by the chief’s hostility toward Black people. Also expected to testify is Nucera’s former second-in-command, Brian Pesce, who succeeded him as chief.
It was unclear whether Nucera or Stroye, who was 18 at the time of the episode, will take the stand. Neither testified in the first trial, although in a November 2017 interview with The Inquirer, Stroye told of the harrowing encounter with Nucera and other officers at the hotel.
”I thought they were going to shoot me,” Stroye said then.
The first jury — three Black jurors and nine white — deadlocked 9-3 in favor of convicting Nucera.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Lorber declined to comment on the retrial. She is expected to again rely heavily upon the testimony of rank-and-file officers.
Defense lawyer Rocco Cipparone again faces an uphill battle to overcome the inflammatory language from the secret recordings of Nucera. He has described the case against Nucera as “all talk, no action.”
» READ MORE: Is racist speech a crime? Closing arguments heard in the trial of ex-Bordentown Township police chief. (from October 2019)
In one recording played during his earlier, three-week trial, Nucera commented on the 2016 election, and lauded Donald Trump as “the great hope for white people.” He said Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would “give in to all the minorities.”
“All they may have are words, but the words that they have are strong,” said Frank Pezzella, an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who has conducted research on hate crimes. The case is even stronger for the deprivation-of-liberty charge because the suspect was handcuffed, he said.
A 34-year law enforcement veteran, Nucera was a fixture in Bordentown when the scandal erupted.
After learning he was being investigated, Nucera in January 2017 resigned from the 25-member police department and as the administrator of the township of 11,000. His annual $105,000 pension has been frozen pending the outcome of all the charges.
In a filing before his sentencing in May, Cipparone asked the judge for leniency, saying the racist statements Nucera made were “a snapshot in time” and out of character. Nucera, otherwise, had a ”well-lived life,” he said.
Kugler sentenced Nucera to 28 months in prison for lying to the FBI, which investigated the hate-crime case. The judge said he wanted to send a strong message that such misconduct would not be tolerated. He noted: “Unfortunately, I can’t change his heart.”
Nucera remains free on bond pending the retrial. If convicted on a count of hate-crime assault and deprivation of civil rights, he could face up to 10 years in prison on each.
» READ MORE: Ex-Bordentown Township police chief gets 28 months in prison for lying to the FBI in a hate-crime case (from May 2021)
The first trial’s jury foreman, Kia Lipscomb, who voted to convict Nucera, said she hopes the next jury can reach a decision. Her panel deliberated for 45 hours over eight days.
“Whether it goes either way, I hope they come to something,” said Lipscomb, 51, of Gloucester Township. “I hope that justice is done.”