CAMDEN, N.J. – Former Bordentown Township Police Chief Frank Nucera Jr. is racist. He denigrated non-white citizens, used racial insults and said blacks should "stay away from Bordentown," the mostly white suburb of New Jersey where Nucera was chief of police and city manager.
Nucera called President Donald Trump the "last hope for whites" and referred to his officers in terms full of expletives. He called his subordinates "millennial pussies," "fags" and "softer than baby crap." Several officials said Nucera was obsessed with ticket revenues, and one called it "Nazi traffic" that oversaw a small department that patrolled a 10-square-mile Municipality and issued more tickets per year than the municipality had residents.
An officer compared working for Nucera with having a relationship with an abuser. Another said he was "less afraid of being shot" than of Nucera. Even an officer that a colleague described as Nucera's "best friend" told the FBI that the boss "has a bad temper" and "should have retired 10 years ago."
When the FBI began its criminal investigation into Nucera, almost half of the officers in the 23-person police department had taken "the extraordinary measure of registering their own chief," according to federal prosecutors. (Many of the previous epithets come from the recordings of Bordentown Township officers.)
Nucera seemed untouchable. When an anonymous officer wrote a letter complaining about Nucera to the local newspaper, Nucera seized it and examined it for fingerprints. When he didn't like a comment online, Nucera reportedly wanted to quote the IP address to identify the commenter.
None of that was enough to finish his career.
It wasn't until shortly before Nucera I was loaded with a series of federal crimes for allegedly banging the head of a black teenager in a doorway, becoming the first law enforcement officer in the United States to face a federal case of hate crimes in at least a decade – who finally quit.
The former Bordentown Twp police chief, Frank Nucera, told a federal judge at his trial for assault on hate crimes that he will not testify. The judge rejected a defense motion to dismiss the charges against Nucera. The defense said the prosecution had not presented its case. pic.twitter.com/8XHAxwWYIL
– Melanie Burney (@MLBURNEY) October 1, 2019
This week, a federal jury in Camden will begin to deliberate on the fate of Nucera. Your freedom as well as your Pension of $ 8,800 per month, are on the line. In general, it is extremely difficult to prove that the actions of an officer were motivated by a discriminatory intention. But Nucera's frequent racist outbursts gave federal prosecutors a lot of material to suggest that the coup was motivated by a racial mood.
At the center of the Nucera case is the arrest of an 18-year-old boy. Timothy Stroye at the Ramada hotel in Bordentown Township. A Ramada manager falsely believed that Stroye and his 16-year-old girlfriend, who were staying at the hotel with his family, had been swimming in the pool without paying a room. Stroye allegedly fought with the officers, but Nucera's alleged assault took place after Stroye was already in custody. Stroye was unable to pay his $ 7,500 bond and his father died during the three weeks he was in the Burlington County jail, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in November 2017, shortly after Nucera was charged.
Stroye, who has since faced criminal charges in unrelated incidents, did not testify at the Nucera trial.
When jurors begin to deliberate on the case after closing arguments on Wednesday, they will focus on a series of narrow questions: if the former boss banged the head of a black teenager handcuffed against a door jamb on September 1, 2016 , if that action was motivated by racial spirit, and if he lied to the FBI about the alleged assault.
But the Nucera trial also raises much bigger questions about federal and local police supervision.
"He had lost all confidence in the process," said Brian Pesce, current Bordentown Township police chief, while testifying at the federal trial of Nucera in Camden. Pesce, who served under Nucera for 18 years, said he had witnessed a "history of indifference" from the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office.
Under former President Barack Obama, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice expanded investigations that examine unconstitutional police surveillance, which can help put an end to broader issues within law enforcement agencies. Federal civil rights investigations in police departments in cities such as Newark, Chicago and Ferguson, Missouri, identified significant problems with internal affairs systems intended to hold officers accountable for their actions.
The Trump administration, on the other hand, withdrew from police supervision, and almost half of the police practice group within the special litigation section of the Civil Rights Division has left since Trump took office. Under Trump, the Department of Justice has avoided opening any investigation into the practices of the police department, instead focusing on accusing individual agents, such as Nucera, of crimes. Other Justice Department charges against "bad apples" involve well-documented cases of excessive force, such as prisoners handcuffed with pepper sprayers, suspected of whipping with guns, beating chained prisoners and kicking minors.
Nucera shaped the department in every way. He hired his own son, Frank Nucera III, who remains in force. The problem presented by the handling of the case by the Department of Justice is clear: if an open racist was able to reach the top of the Bordentown Township Police Department, is it worth investigating their practices, in addition to their boss?
Police supervision is somewhat complicated. Internal affairs systems are black holes, and the country is in what an expert called "total fog of ignorance" about how cases of police misconduct are handled. There are no real national standards, and defective internal affairs processes are a common feature in troubled departments.
The Bordentown Township Police Department consists of less than two dozen officers. Like many small police departments, that presents a great challenge to carry out an internal affairs operation, which effectively becomes a part-time job that nobody really wants because it means scrutinizing a colleague you work with every day. day.
The detective sergeant of Bordentown Township. Salvatore Guido, for example, would prefer not to have to handle internal affairs cases. And according to his record, he probably shouldn't: Guido witnessed the alleged assault on Nucera, did not report it, and was later recorded saying that the "fucking assholes" in the FBI should not get camera images from the incident board. Guido, who was apparently a reluctant witness in the case against Nucera, told the jury that "he would rather not be an internal affairs officer," according to The Trentonian.
Using the internal affairs system against Nucera was not really an option. Nor was he going to the city manager: Nucera was typically dividing that position typically full-time with two other municipal employees.
In New Jersey, officers can also escalate their complaints to the county attorney. But the municipal police and the county attorney's office worked hand in hand in criminal cases, and former Burlington County prosecutor Robert Bernard and Nucera issued a series of joint press releases. An officer told the FBI that Nucera had Bernardi, who had been the oldest county prosecutor in New Jersey, "in his pocket." Bernardi retired in March 2017, a few months after Nucera left before his eventual accusation.
When the now Chief Pesce ran into Bernardi at an event in May 2017, Pesce said Bernardi said it was "crazy" that the FBI's investigation of Nucera was ongoing. "Let the sleeping dogs lie," Bernardi said. (Bernardi did not respond to a voicemail requesting comments, while a spokesman for the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office, which is now under new leadership, declined to comment on the record because the case against Nucera was ongoing.)
In "these small town municipalities … there are many people hired for what they know, and there is a lot of coverage for officers by people who are supposedly investigating their behavior," said Stanley King, a civil rights defender. New Jersey lawyer. In large cases, he said, "you almost have to send it out of the county, because relations are too close."
The components of the FBI investigation also pose troubling problems with the police practices of Bordentown Township. While the United States Attorney's Office for the District of New Jersey may have described officers' complaints about ticket fees as "mundane," excessive dependence on ticket issuance revenue created a series of constitutional problems. in places like Ferguson and St. Louis County.
Ticket sales are a great source of income for municipal governments in Garden State. A Bordentown Township budget document indicates The government raised $ 636,000 in revenue from fines in 2016, which was enough to cover the cost of the municipal court and reduced the annual budget of the police department from $ 2.3 million for the municipality. Obviously, this has not been a priority since Nucera's departure: by 2018, the revenues of the municipal courts were up to $ 354,000, which suggests that Nucera-era ticket issuance levels were not necessarily linked to public safety objectives.
Federal civil rights researchers may also want to explore how Nucera's dislike of non-white citizens impacted daily surveillance in the municipality. Agents say Nucera sent police dogs to a high school basketball game because the opposing team was mostly black.
Another issue seems to be the threshold at which officers consider the use of force to be excessive.
Deputy federal prosecutor Molly Selzer Lorber told the jury that Stroye "did not pose a threat to anyone" when Nucera beat him against the door jamb, and could not see the coup or prepare against him. The case of the Department of Justice against Nucera materialized in the fall of 2017, just a few months after President Donald Trump joked about police brutality and, specifically, hitting the handcuffed suspects with their heads & # 39; against objects, in a speech before members of the police.
The Nucera legal team admits the racist outbursts of Nucera, but says that's the only thing federal prosecutors can prove. There is no video evidence of Nucera's alleged assault, but two of his officers, including Nucera's closest friend in the force, have testified that he assaulted Stroye. After the assault, Nucera was recorded referring to Stroye as a "fucking little black fucking" and his companions as "six black rebel fucking" and "pieces of shit," although he never admitted in the recordings that he hit Stroye's head on the door .
Court documents indicate that Nucera allegedly hit Stroye's head against a metal door jamb, an act that would represent a federal civil rights crime and a possible hate crime, initially did not hit other officers as a particularly notable problem .
Before the FBI investigation began, the now Chief Pesce helped put together a document called a "request for help, a request for investigation" that he intended to submit to the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office, and possibly to the municipal Council. He outlined eight separate "racist acts" committed by Nucera. It included multiple incidents of Nucera using racial slurs, ranting about gay people, black citizens and American Indians. But, in describing the Stroye incident, he did not mention that Nucera banged Stroye's head against the door jamb.
"I didn't think the assault on a handcuffed person was enough," Pesce said during the trial. Now the jurors will decide if that was the case.
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