Jury foreman in deadlocked trial of N.J. ex-police chief: ‘We realized we just weren’t going to get anywhere’
The jury in the hate-crime assault trial of ex-Bordentown Township Police Chief Frank Nucera Jr. struggled over eight days to reach a verdict in the two most serious counts, but largely rejected the testimony of two prosecution witnesses, a juror said Friday.
They yelled. They wept. They slammed doors. They took increasingly frequent smoking breaks. They struggled with issues of race.
For eight days, the jurors debated heatedly, trying to reach a verdict. But in the end, they could not agree on the two most serious charges against former Bordentown Township Police Chief Frank Nucera Jr., who was accused of using excessive force and denying the civil rights of Timothy Stroye, a black man, during a 2016 police call.
And after deliberating for about 45 hours, the nine white and three black jurors told U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler on Friday that they could not reach a unanimous verdict in the trial, which had played out over three weeks in federal court in Camden. The judge declared a mistrial.
In interviews afterward, two African American women on the jury provided a look into the swirling emotions in the deliberation room.
“We were all afraid that if we didn’t do something to this guy, he was just going to live a life of luxury, and maybe there wasn’t going to be a second trial,” said Pamela Richardson, 63, one of three black female jurors. “That’s something we all … kept saying was, ‘If we don’t do it, who’s going to do it?’”
The same panel earlier this week found Nucera guilty of lying to the FBI. Jury foreman Kia Lipscomb said jurors were split 9-3 in favor of finding Nucera guilty in the Sept. 1, 2016 incident.
All three black jurors voted to convict Nucera on both counts. But the panel was divided on the hate-crime assault count, said Lipscomb, 49, a teacher from Clementon. For some jurors, the decision “was very clear” in favor of a guilty verdict, she said.
Ultimately, Lipscomb said, it became clear that the holdouts would not budge. “We realized we just weren’t going to get anywhere,” she said. “It was back and forth. There were some who were just not willing to change.”
The jury of seven women and five men received the case Oct. 2. From the second day of deliberation, Richardson said, she worried that the jury might deadlock.
"When I came in Thursday, I said we’re going to be a hung jury. That’s what I said to myself,” said Richardson, a retired pharmaceutical representative from Marlton. “I said, these people are not budging.”
During the testimony, jurors heard recordings secretly made of Nucera that captured the longtime law enforcement officer using slurs against blacks, Mexicans, and Asians.
Richardson said the tapes helped to convince her that Nucera was guilty of assaulting Stroye, who could not be reached for comment.
“When somebody used the racist commentary that he has used his whole life, and it’s on tape, the racist things he said, you just automatically have to assume that he would do something to somebody,” Richardson said. “I mean, it’s on tape where he said he wished the two people were still outside so that he could sic the dogs on the [N-word] because that would’ve put them down.”
Jurors also heard Nucera on tape telling a fellow officer that President Donald Trump was ”the last hope for white people” and expressing concern that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton would ”give in to all the minorities.” Lipscomb said the panel was clear about the racial animus that prosecutors alleged Nucera had expressed in the predominantly white township.
“We all kind of agreed that the extensive racial piece of it was absolutely there, and that it was an atrocity,” Lipscomb said.
The jurors were not far into deliberations when the issue of their own races came up.
“There was one gentleman who said to us in the early days, ‘The only reason you African American women are voting this way is because you’re black,” Richardson said. “I went, ‘No s—, Sherlock.’”
The next morning, she said, one white juror who has black family members confronted that juror. On the last day of deliberations, Richardson spoke to the panel about her own experience as an African American woman, including her life in the South.
Messages left for eight jurors were not returned. Efforts to reach additional jurors were not successful. The jury issued a statement after the verdict asking for privacy.
Besides Lipscomb and Richardson, other jurors included a nurse, another teacher, a guidance counselor, a retirement consultant, a high school secretary, a banker, a fiber optics technician, an information technology director, and a bartender. They had been selected from a pool of about 100 prospective jurors who were asked their views about police and the use of excessive force, discrimination, race relations in the United States, and the use of racial slurs.
Lipscomb said the jury struggled with the testimony of Sgt. Nathan Roohr and Detective Sgt. Salvatore Guido, the township police officers who implicated Nucera. Both cops said they saw Nucera strike Stroye. Roohr said Nucera slammed the teen’s head into a doorjamb “like a basketball.”
The prosecution’s star witness, Roohr, a K-9 officer, had made 81 recordings of Nucera that were presented as evidence. Guido initially told FBI investigators that he did not witness the assault, but the same day changed his testimony and said he saw Nucera strike the teen.
The three holdout jurors didn’t find the witness testimony credible, Lipscomb and Richardson said.
Of Roohr and Guido, Lipscomb said, those jurors “really felt that they couldn’t trust their testimony.”
The jury also wondered why Stroye, who was issued a subpoena, was not called by either side to testify, Lipscomb said. The panel was unable to agree on whether Stroye was struck in the head as described by authorities.
“They didn’t quite agree that there was a hit. Some said maybe there was a push. Some said there was a hit. Some thought it was maybe a little bit of a nudge,” the foreman said.
By Friday, deliberations had grown extremely tense, Richardson said. The nine jurors who believed Nucera was guilty started out the morning by trying to persuade the other three to see their side.
“When we came back to the jury room this afternoon or this morning, I looked around the room and I think three or four of the men were crying,” Richardson said. “All the men who thought that he was guilty were crying.”
Eventually, jurors wrote down their responses to a question from the judge on whether further deliberations would lead to a verdict. But they didn’t hand it in for another hour.
“Then, finally, [we] knocked on the door to get the judge, to hand the envelope off, and then, even as that was done, people were like, ‘No, don’t give her the envelope, don’t give her the envelope,’” Richardson said.
Late Friday morning, the solemn jurors filed into the courtroom. One white male juror, who was in favor of acquittal, stood in the jury box defiantly with his arms crossed.
“I feel like we did the absolute best we could,“ Lipscomb said. “You have to stand your ground, stay true to your morals whatever they might be.”