A U.S. district judge ruled in December 2018 that federal hate crime charges against a now-retired New Jersey police chief – the first of their kind in about decade – will not be dismissed, paving the way to trial.
Frank Nucera Jr. is accused by federal prosecutors “of grabbing a handcuffed teen from behind and slamming his head into a metal doorjam in a Bordentown hotel stairwell due to an ‘intense racial animus toward African-Americans,’ according to a federal indictment charging him with hate-crime assault, deprivation of civil rights and lying to FBI agents,” burlingtoncountytimes.com reports. He has pleaded not guilty.
“Federal excessive force prosecutions are relatively rare,” notes cnn.com, “because the government must prove an officer specifically set out to deprive a victim of his or her constitutional rights, per a 1945 Supreme Court decision known as Screws v. United States.”
The complaint against Nucera alleges “racist slurs and the use of police dogs to intimidate black fans at a local high school basketball game and in an apartment complex where black people were present,” nbcnews.com reports. He also reportedly made derogatory remarks about blacks, according to transcripts of recordings submitted by an FBI agent. “At one point, talking about a black suspect believed to have slashed the tires of a police car, Nucera allegedly told the officer who was secretly recording him that ‘n-----s are like ISIS, they have no value,’” nbcnews.com reports.
The doorjamb incident occurred on September 1, 2016. That’s when two teens were taking a dip in a hotel pool and, in a misunderstanding, being accused of not paying for a guestroom.
The manager called police to report the teens. Timothy Stroye, 18, and a 16-year-old girl were still wet when police showed up. Words erupted into a confrontation and the arrival of backup cops, including Nucera. There was shouting, a lieutenant with a back problem was hurt, and an officer pepper sprayed and handcuffed Stroye. Screaming at the police was the girl’s aunt, cnn.com reports.
Once at the police station, Stroye told an EMS technician that he was having an asthma attack and might have a concussion. He was charged with resisting arrest, assault on an officer, and theft, then held three weeks in the Burlington County Jail, philly.com reports, unable to pay the $7,500 bail.
The assault on Stroye was driven by Nucera’s bias against African-Americans, say federal prosecutors.
According to CNN, “the federal definition of a hate crime includes any offense that ‘attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person.’”
Admittedly, it is “difficult to bring criminal deprivation of rights indictments against law enforcement because police have wide latitude to use force if they believe an individual is threatening public safety, whether the person is armed or not. With Nucera, prosecutors felt they had sufficient proof to convince a jury the now-retired chief used unreasonable force and he was motivated by racial bias.”
Rocco Cipparone Jr., Nucera’s defense attorney, said another officer caused Stroye’s injury and Stroye reportedly said several officers hit him. He felt one knee in his face and another against his back. As the handcuffed teen was brought to his feet, he wanted names, but the officers did not reply though he heard one say “chief.”
Audio recordings made by Sergeant Nathan Roohr at the scene reveal that Roohr “had been secretly making tapes for months because he felt Nucera created a toxic work environment, and he found the chief’s remarks about minorities offensive. The FBI investigation revealed that at least nine other officers were using hidden recording devices, as they reportedly shared Roorh’s concerns,” cnn.com reports.
At the scene, Nucera reportedly referred to Stroye by the N-word and let loose a profane rant about blacks, Hispanics, and Muslims.
According to cnn.com, “He described the struggle to handcuff Stroye: ‘F-----g little f-----g n----r. He was built pretty stocky though. When you put cocoa butter on that skin and come out of the pool, it’s like trying to hold down a f-----g snake.’”
The FBI reportedly has 81 audio recordings of Nucera from 2015 and 2016. Agents also provided the sergeant with devices to continue taping Nucera.
As for what triggered the events, Stroye told philly.com he was at the pool while staying at the hotel with guests who paid for a two-bedroom suite, although the front desk mistakenly thought he had his own unit. The birthday getaway included his girlfriend, her aunt and uncle, and her three cousins.
Sources: cnn.com, nbcnews.com, philly.com, burlingtoncountytimes.com
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