Disgraced N.J. police chief says jurors’ racial bias tainted hate crime trial

Frank Nucera Jr., left, with his defense attorney Rocco Cipparone. (Nicholas Pugliese/WHYY)

Frank Nucera Jr., left, with his defense attorney Rocco Cipparone. (Nicholas Pugliese/WHYY)

Updated 3:27 p.m.

A white former New Jersey police chief accused of hate crime assault against a black teenager says his conviction should be thrown out due to racial and anti-police bias among jurors.

Those jurors in October found disgraced Bordentown Township Police Chief Frank Nucera, Jr. guilty of lying to FBI agents as they investigated an allegation that Nucera slammed a handcuffed black teenager into a door jamb during a 2016 arrest. 

The panel of nine white and three black jurors deadlocked on two other counts: hate-crime assault and using excessive force. A retrial on those federal charges is scheduled for March.

Defense attorney Rocco Cipparone said Nucera deserves a new trial on all charges. He said in a court filing that four jurors approached him after the trial to say they were bullied to convict by black jurors. 

The filing was first reported by The Trentonian. 

In sworn affidavits with all names redacted, those jurors said their black peers talked during heated deliberations about their own experiences with racial discrimination and reflexively rejected evidence that spoke to Nucera’s innocence.

Jurors who suggested the government had not proved its case were met with hostility and accusations that they were biased in favor of Nucera, according to the affidavits.

“You would not find Frank Nucera guilty even if he shot Stroye in the face,” one juror said she was told by a black peer, causing her to cry. Timothy Stroye is the man Nucera allegedly assaulted.

“I was made to feel that if I did not vote for conviction, I was insensitive to the experiences suffered by people because of their race,” the woman said. During the trial, each of the 12 jurors individually told the judge they agreed with the decision.

Another juror said he overheard a man say he felt the need to convict Nucera to make “reparations” for the overall treatment of African Americans.

“Because the jury’s deliberations were tainted by issues of racial bias, extrajudicial considerations and improper influence, defendant Nucera was deprived of his constitutional right to a fair trial,” Cipparone said in his filing.

Although what jurors say during deliberations generally are private and cannot be used to overturn a verdict, Cipparone said there’s precedent that supports his argument. 

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that a Colorado man convicted of unlawful sexual contact should get a shot at a new trial because of a juror’s racially biased remarks about the man and his main witness, both of whom were Latinx.

In a separate line of argument, Cipparone said the conviction should be tossed because a juror lied about her anti-police bias during jury selection.

Federal prosecutors have not filed a response yet, and a Justice Department spokesman declined to comment Wednesday. 

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