Victim in racial bias case involving ex-police chief in South Jersey tells of harrowing encounter
"I thought they were going to shoot me," Timothy Stroye said. The incident in Bordentown Township, N.J., has led to hate crime charges against former Police Chief Frank Nucera Jr.
In the FBI's stunningly detailed bias complaint this month against the former Bordentown Township police chief, the victim is "Civilian 1" — a young black man whose violent arrest a year ago led to the high-profile civil rights case.
According to the FBI, Chief Frank M. Nucera Jr., who later abruptly retired, slammed the head of Civilian 1 against a metal door jamb while the man was in handcuffs and later let loose a stream of N-words and other racial slurs, including saying that blacks were "like ISIS." The remarks alarmed one of his officers, who secretly recorded them.
On Friday, in his first interview, Civilian 1 — Timothy Stroye, 19, of Trenton — described the incident at the Ramada hotel off Route 206 from his perspective, telling of a harrowing encounter in which he was at once fearful and defiant. The incident was the beginning of a painful series of events for him, he said, including months in jail and the sudden death of his father.
Whatever may have motivated Nucera, who is white, when he shoved Stroye's head into the door jamb, Stroye said he didn't hear the chief utter slurs.
Community leaders also have said they were surprised to learn Nucera harbored such hidden hatred.
The FBI said that after the attack on Stroye "on or about Sept. 1, 2016," Nucera told one of the officers who witnessed it that he and numerous other officers had responded to a call for backup because there were "six unruly [expletive N-words]" at the hotel.
Stroye said Nucera struck him at the top of a second-floor flight of stairs as he was being escorted to a cruiser by two officers.
"Things were blurry," he said. "I blacked out a while."
He said he reacted with "some disrespectful things" — he threatened to spit on Nucera.
The chief taunted him back: "Everyone is a tough guy when they're cuffed. I'll uncuff you, and then I'll see how tough you are."
Moments earlier, Stroye said, officers had put him down on the hallway floor, and he noticed four backup officers, including Nucera, coming toward him. Two had their hands on their guns, though neither drew his weapon.
"I thought they were going to shoot me," he said.
Stroye told the Inquirer and Daily News on Friday that authorities had informed him just the week before that he might be called to testify against the former chief. But he said he wasn't aware Nucera had been arrested on hate-crime charges and that this had made national headlines. He said the FBI had not interviewed him about the incident, which federal authorities say was a racially motivated assault.
Stroye's account of the encounter matched many of the allegations in the federal complaint, but he provided details.
"Justice needs to be served," Stroye said.
Stroye's public defender could not be reached for comment, and attempts to reach Nucera also were unsuccessful. He has not named a lawyer, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey.
Stroye said he had gone to the Ramada with his girlfriend, her aunt and uncle, and her three young cousins for a birthday getaway. The adults had paid for a two-bedroom suite so everyone could spend the night, but Stroye said that the next day the hotel clerk mistakenly thought he had stayed in a separate unit and had not paid the bill.
As he emerged from the hotel pool, with a towel draped over his shoulders but still dripping, Stroye said the clerk falsely accused him of "stealing a room which cost $60 a night" and called the police.
Ginny Singh, the general manager at the Ramada, said he was hired months after the incident and all of the files had been turned over to the FBI. A manager on duty Friday afternoon said she, too, had begun working at the hotel after the incident.
Stroye lives with his grandmother and works for a fast-food restaurant. The Inquirer and Daily News obtained his name through an open public records request.
He was 18 at the time of the incident and it marked his first time in jail as an adult, he said, adding that he had a juvenile record that includes shoplifting convictions.
He was charged with resisting arrest, assault on an officer, and theft in the Ramada melee. Unable to post $7,500 bail, he was held for three weeks in the Burlington County Jail. While in isolation there after a scuffle with a corrections officer, he learned that his father, also named Timothy, 43, had died of a massive heart attack.
"The last time I saw my dad, he was good," said Stroye. "My dad was healthy, joking around."
Falicia Stroye, an agency nurse, said that for her son, "the day his father died was the worst day of his life" and "he said the second worst day of his life was being abused" during the hotel incident.
The mother of three said that when her son was confronted by police, he "did fight back, but he was Maced and he was reacting to it."
According to Timothy Stroye, the dispute over the hotel bill escalated when his girlfriend, then 16, started shouting that one of the officers was grabbing her neck and he tried to go to her rescue. One officer "became overly aggressive," he said, spraying him at close range.
Stroye, who has asthma, said he began choking. He said he raised the towel to his face, but the officer continued to spray him. He shoved the towel into the officer's face and a scuffle ensued.
"I wasn't resisting. I was no threat to them," Stroye said.
The two officers initially dispatched to the hotel called for backup. Nucera and three others arrived.
Stroye said Nucera shoved him two other times as he was being removed from the hotel, knocking his head against a glass door at the bottom of the stairs and then against the top of the patrol car's door as he was placed inside. At the station, Stroye reported that his head hurt and he felt dizzy. He requested medical care but then decided against going to the hospital.
Acting Bordentown Township Police Chief Brian Pesce, who succeeded Nucera in February, declined to comment on Stroye's version, but called the federal allegations against Nucera "shocking and troubling."
Pesce told civil rights activists at a meeting last week that the department had made a "360-degree philosophical change." He rejected suggestions the department has a widespread and deep-seated problem with racism.
"This was not a systematic or cultural thing," said Pesce, a 19-year veteran of the department. "This was the action of one employee, one person."
Stroye agreed to a plea deal in which charges against him from the September 2016 incident were dropped, and he was sentenced to 180 days in jail and two years probation after pleading guilty to aggravated assault for his scuffle with the corrections officer. He was released in July after serving about four months. His former girlfriend, now 17, was placed in a pretrial program, he said.
Stroye said he hopes to obtain his GED and pursue a career as a music producer.
"If it took for me to be a victim to bring justice, then I can't say I regret it," Stroye said. "I just wish it had transpired differently."
Staff writer Mensah M. Dean contributed to this article.