Federal prosecutors wrapped up their case Tuesday against ex-Bordentown Township Police Chief Frank Nucera Jr., who told a judge he decided not to testify at his hate-crime assault trial for allegedly striking a black suspect.
U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler also rejected a motion by defense attorney Rocco Cipparone to dismiss the three counts against Nucera: hate-crime assault, civil rights violation, and lying to the FBI. Cipparone argued unsuccessfully that the prosecution had failed to prove its case during the three-week trial.
Kugler said it would be up to the jury to listen to the “awful things that the defendant said on tape“ and determine whether the alleged assault was racially motivated.
”We have his own words,” the judge noted. A fellow officer secretly made recordings in which Nucera is captured using the N-word and other racial slurs.
After testimony by a final witness, FBI Agent Vernon Addison, who spent several hours on the stand Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Lorber rested her case. Addison was grilled about a nearly hour-long secretly recorded interview with Nucera. Authorities say Nucera lied about events surrounding the Sept. 1, 2016, incident that prompted the charges.
Nucera told the judge he would not take the stand. The jury was not in the courtroom.
“I’m willing to not testify,” Nucera said. Cipparone did not indicate whether he plans to call any witnesses when the trial resumes Wednesday morning.
Closing arguments in the trial are expected Wednesday morning. Kugler said the jury of seven women and five men could begin deliberations by the afternoon.
Nucera, 61, is accused of striking Timothy Stroye, a handcuffed black suspect, during his arrest at the Ramada Inn in Bordentown Township. Two fellow officers testified that Nucera slammed Stroye’s head into a metal doorjamb during a scuffle with police.
After the assault, authorities say, the chief made a series of racist remarks at the station that were secretly recorded by Sgt. Nathan Roohr, a member of the force. Roohr made 81 tapes of his former boss during the investigation. Other officers on the 25-member force also recorded Nucera.
In a snippet played during the trial, Nucera could be heard saying, “It’s gonna get to the point where I could shoot one of these [expletives].”
Nucera regularly expressed racial animus against black people — casually using the N-word and comparing African Americans to ISIS, according to Roohr. In another recording, Nucera called President Donald Trump ”the last hope for white people.”
Prosecutors say Nucera, the longtime chief, had a “significant history“ of racial remarks. They allege that Nucera struck Stroye because he is black and that excessive force was used. Police were dispatched to the Ramada after a hotel manager reported that Stroye and his girlfriend were swimming in the pool and had not paid their bill.
Stroye, now 19, of Trenton, was issued a subpoena, but did not testify. In statements to investigators, Stroye has said he could not identify who struck him, but said he heard someone say “chief.”
Roohr, a K-9 officer, was the key witness for the prosecution. Roohr has said that he began recording Nucera after the 2015 ISIS remark and that he became increasingly alarmed by the chief’s hostility toward blacks in the predominantly white community of 11,000 just outside Trenton.
Nucera was captured on a cell phone recording made by Roohr saying: “It would have been nice if that [expletive] dog could have come up. I’m telling you. You’d have seen two [expletives] stop dead in their tracks.”
Experts say the case is unusual because Roohr and other rank-and-file officers broke the “blue wall” code of silence and testified against their former chief. Roohr and Detective Sgt. Salvatore Guido said they saw Nucera strike Stroye.
“We have an unusual situation,” Kugler acknowledged in his ruling to uphold the charges against Nucera. “It’s not something that we see very often.”
Cipparone has argued that Nucera was disliked by his officers and that they wanted him ousted as chief. There was no hotel video or bodycam recording of the alleged assault.
The jury heard the statement from Nucera that was recorded by Addison when he interviewed Nucera in January 2017 at a truck stop in Bordentown where Nucera was moonlighting. Nucera repeatedly said he was unaware of any injuries to Stroye at the Ramada or any excessive force used to arrest him and his girlfriend.
”How do you arrest somebody nicely that doesn’t want to be arrested?” Nucera said on the recording. “I didn’t go hands on, didn’t touch touch anybody.”
In other testimony Tuesday, Colleen Eckert, a former township employee who shared a position as an administrator with Nucera and another employee, tearfully admitted that all three used the N-word. She said the racial slur was used in a conversation about a real estate developer.
Eckert said she resigned from the position in January after township officials learned about her statement in published reports and planned disciplinary action. She said she was allowed to keep her pension, but was barred from working for the township again.
During the trial, witnesses have painted a picture of a beleaguered police department where officers ran afoul of the law and used derogatory language to refer to women. Nucera also made remarks about Hispanics, Mexicans, and gays, prosecutors say.