Nucera found guilty of lying to FBI

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Former Bordentown Police Chief Frank Nucera now faces five years in federal prison for lying to the FBI in the investigation.

CAMDEN — Frank Nucera Jr., the former longtime chief of the Bordentown Township Police Department, was found guilty of lying to the FBI on Wednesday.

The jury, however, will return Thursday to continue its deliberations on two other charges, hate-crime assault and deprivation of civil rights, after telling the judge earlier this week it was deadlocked.

Nucera, who retired from the force and from his job as township administrator in 2017, is accused of assaulting a handcuffed, 18-year-old black man at the top of a hotel stairwell on Sept. 1, 2016. Authorities allege he slammed the head of Timothy Stroye, of Trenton, into the metal door jamb.

He is believed to be the first chief in over a decade to be tried on federal hate crime.

Defence attorney Rocco Cipparone said Nucera maintains there was no assault.

“He didn’t take it well of course, but who would,” he said after the guilty verdict was rendered Wednesday. “So he’s not happy about it, he was frankly shocked by it in some respects, because if you’re the person who was there and know you didn’t do it, it’s disheartening after a 34-year career to be in that position. He took it with grace, but he doesn’t like it, who would.”

The jury delivered its verdict at 4:29 p.m. Wednesday. At that time, U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler asked the panel to determine if there was a “reasonable chance” of reaching a verdict on the other counts. They returned to the jury room and a few minutes later told the judge they will return to court Thursday to continue deliberations.

On Tuesday, the jurors asked what the next steps would be if they had reached a unanimous verdict on one count, but not others.

Jurors deliberated for over 36 hours before delivering the guilty verdict. They reviewed testimony transcripts from seven of the nine witnesses called to the stand and rewatched video from inside of the Bordentown Township police station that shows Stroye discussing his arrest with a cellmate.

“The jury’s been working hard, but of course we’re disappointed in any guilty verdict. I was hopeful that it was not guilty but were going to wait and see what happens tomorrow as well,” Cipparone said.

“Of the three counts this is the lesser of three evils, for the lack of a better term, it doesn’t mean we’re happy with it, but it is what it is and I have to accept it at this point until we go further,” he said.

Nucera now faces up to five years in prison. He could also permanently lose his six-figure pension. He will be sentenced on Feb. 6, and will remain out of custody. Cipparone said he could get less time under sentencing guidelines.

Federal prosecutors alleged the assault was motivated by deep “racial animus” and used secretly recorded conversations of the chief to argue their case. The defence acknowledged the racist language on the tapes was “ugly,” it argued there was no assault and therefore no crime.

Over the course of the trial, jurors watched a nearly hour-long interview between Nucera and FBI Special Agents Arthur Durrant and Vernon Addison at the Petro Stopping Center truck stop in December 2016. Special Agent Durrant secretly video-recorded Nucera recount the incident with Stroye at the Ramada Inn.

Nucera did not take the stand at trial, but jurors heard his interview with the FBI where he denied the incident with Stroye, who also did not testify. In the interview, Nucera told the special agents that he did not touch Stroye the night he was arrested.

“Nope … Nope, I didn’t go hands-on, didn’t touch anybody, didn’t spray anybody,” he tells the agents.

“And you didn’t cuff anybody,” they ask. “I didn’t touch, I didn’t touch any of them …. I had nothing to do with the physical arrest or anything, no,” he replies.

The agents follow with: “If anyone were to say that you, Chief Nucera, used excessive force on anybody at the scene that day … would that be true?”

“No. I didn’t touch anyone,” Nucera said.

However, jurors also heard testimony from multiple Bordentown Township police officers who testified Nucera, in some manner, assisted with getting Stroye through a narrow doorway as he was being led out of the hotel in handcuffs. Two officers, Roohr and Detective Sgt. Sal Guido, testified they saw Nucera strike Stroye. Others said they only saw Nucera next to Stroye as he was being led through the doorway.

Nucera also told the special agents he was not aware Stroye received any medical attention following his arrest.

However, jurors heard on a recording earlier in the trial Nucera discussing treatment Stroye received from an EMT. Stroye initially told the EMT he wanted to go to the hospital for head pain, but later changed his mind.

Jurors also heard audio from a handful of the 81 recordings Roohr made of conversations he had with Nucera and other officers, including a conversation shortly after Stroye’s arrest where Nucera’s racism was on full display.

“I’m (expletive) tired of the man. I’ll tell you what, it’s gonna get to the point where I can shoot one of these (racial slur),” Nucera was heard saying after the arrest.

He also said, “It would have been nice if that (expletive) dog could have come up. … You’d have seen two (racial slur) stop dead in their tracks. I love that when they do that. I just love that,” according to the recording played for the jury.

Roohr, a K-9 dog handler for Bordentown Township police, began secretly recording Nucera about a year before the assault after he heard the former chief say, “These (racial slur) are like ISIS; they have no value. They should line them all up and mow ’em down. I’d like to be on the firing squad, I could do it.”

Roohr made a note of it at the time, and would eventually read it to the jury during the trial.

Cipparone, while acknowledging that Nucera’s racist language was “ugly, embarrassing and offensive,” argued that the words did not prove Nucera assaulted Stroye. He also said the officers who testified case were all part of a conspiracy to remove a police chief who was tight with overtime, a stickler for the rules and someone who held his officers to a very high standard.

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