The former chief of a small South Jersey police department was released from federal custody on $500,000 bail to await trial on bias and civil rights charges that have rocked his Bordentown Township community, though local civil rights officials said Thursday they had not received any complaints about him.
The charges announced Wednesday against Frank M. Nucera Jr. stem from an incident a year ago in which Nucera allegedly attacked a handcuffed black suspect who was in police control in the Burlington County town. He made a series of anti-black remarks following the assault, authorities said, that were secretly recorded by an officer in his department who was alarmed by the chief's hostility toward the community.
Nucera, 60, has "a significant history of making racist comments concerning African Americans," according to a criminal complaint filed by the FBI in federal court in Camden. Federal authorities said he used police dogs to intimidate black spectators at high school basketball games. Among his alleged comments, according to federal authorities: Blacks are "like ISIS, they have no value."
Local NAACP leaders said they had not heard any community complaints against Nucera, who had been chief since 2006, rising through the ranks until abruptly retiring in January this year.
Jonette Smart, president of the Trenton chapter of the NAACP, said she couldn't recall any complaints against the Bordentown Township Police Department in general.
Smart said, however, that she was not surprised by the allegations. The organization typically warns minorities from Trenton to take extra precautions while in predominantly white communities such as Bordentown Township, she said.
"There's been a history of certain police departments that you are leery of and in certain areas we are more cautious," Smart said Thursday. "We're not pleased by that mentality and us being viewed as mere criminals."
Trenton was the target of some of the hate remarks Nucera is alleged to have made to fellow officers.
Efforts to reach Nucera, 60, were unsuccessful Thursday. Nucera, who joined the department in 1983 and was earning more than $150,000 annually, gets an annual pension of $105,992.76, according to public records.
Township police officials declined comment Thursday. Federal authorities have said charges against any other members of the force are unlikely.
In the Sept. 1, 2016, incident, an 18-year-old man, accused of not paying his motel bill, was pepper-sprayed and placed in handcuffs, and was being led to the top of a motel stairwell by two Bordentown Township officers when Nucera arrived. The chief approached the suspect from behind and "slammed his head into a door jamb," according to an affidavit filed by the FBI.
Some of Nucera's alleged statements were secretly recorded by an officer in the 25-member department, the FBI affidavit said. Nucera also resigned as administrator of the township of 11,000 after learning he was being investigated for "racially motivated use of excessive force."
Magistrate Judge Ann Marie Donio also ordered Nucera to surrender any guns he had in his home, and his passport and any other travel documents. If convicted, Nucera would face a maximum of 20 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.