Former Bordentown Township Police Chief Frank Nucera Jr. referred to African Americans as “you people” and said they should stay out of the South Jersey community, a fellow officer told a jury Friday during Nucera’s federal hate-crime assault trial.
Detective Sgt. Salvatore Guido was the second member of the Burlington County police department to implicate his ex-chief in a Sept. 1, 2016, incident at a Ramada hotel where, prosecutors allege, Nucera struck Timothy Stroye, a black man who was handcuffed.
Prosecutors say the assault was racially motivated and used excessive force. Nucera, 61, is charged with hate-crime assault, civil rights violations, and lying to the FBI.
Guido testified Friday that he and another officer had taken Stroye, then 18, of Trenton, and his girlfriend, 16, into custody at the hotel after a struggle with both. Nucera and other officers responded to a call for backup. Police were initially dispatched for a report that the couple were swimming in the pool and had not paid their bill.
A 20-year veteran of the force, Guido said he was escorting Stroye in the hallway when he felt “a force from behind” and saw Nucera’s arm pushing Stroye. Guido said the impact pushed him into the side of a fire door.
”I was like, ‘What the hell was that? Where’d that come from?'” Guido recalled. “It was uncalled for. It wasn’t needed at all.”
Stroye was screaming at police and using profanity, but posed no threat at that point, Guido said. Prior to his arrest, authorities say, Stroye struggled with another officer, who needed medical treatment.
In testimony earlier in the week, Sgt. Nathan Roohr also said he saw Nucera slam Stroye’s head into a metal door jamb “like a basketball.” Roohr also secretly made 81 recordings at the station and elsewhere where Nucera was captured using racial slurs.
Prosecutors allege that Nucera regularly expressed racial animus against black people — casually using the N-word and comparing African Americans to ISIS. Roohr said Nucera ordered him to use his K-9 to intimidate blacks at school sporting events.
“He used to refer to them as ’you people.' ‘You people should stay out of our town. You people don’t come back here again,’” Guido said.
Guido spent about two hours on the stand Friday. His testimony is set to resume on Monday. The jury of seven women and five men could get the case by late next week, according to U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler.
Neither side has indicated whether Stroye, now 19, will testify. Defense attorney Rocco Cipparone said a decision has not been made on whether Nucera will take the stand.
In other testimony Friday, Terri Cowen, the former manager at the Ramada, said she filed a complaint with the former township mayor after Nucera made a remark to her during the incident with Stroye. She said Nucera asked her, ”What kind of people are you renting rooms to?”
“I was angry,” Cowen said, adding that she believed the comment was disparaging about black people. She said township officials didn’t do anything about her complaint.
The defense has largely contended that Nucera was disliked by his rank-and-file officers, who wanted him replaced as chief. Cipparone says Nucera made no admission of striking Stroye in the recordings.
The case differs from most police misconduct trials because fellow officers are breaking the “blue wall of silence” and testifying against Nucera. One expert described it as a “mutiny.”
Guido said he reluctantly came forward after initially withholding the assault from the FBI during an interview in December 2016. He said he was “afraid to cross” Nucera, whom he has known for 30 years.
”I don’t want to be a part of this right now,” Guido said Friday. “This is hard.”
Brian DuMont, a retired Bordentown Township police officer, said he conducted Nucera’s background check in the 1980s when Nucera applied to join the force. Nucera had poor references and sloppy financial records, he said, and he recommended against hiring him.
”It wasn’t just one thing. There was a lot,” DuMont said in an interview Friday at the courthouse in Camden. DuMont, of Hamilton, said he plans to write a book about his police experience.
Nucera, according to DuMont. appealed the decision and was hired. DuMont, who was his sergeant, retired in 2003 after 31 years with the department.
Cipparone declined to comment on the scenario outlined by DuMont and said of Nucera, ”I’m not letting him answer any questions. He’s on trial.”