Former N.J. police chief found guilty of lying to FBI as jury deliberations continue

Jurors are still deliberating on two more serious charges: hate-crime assault and using excessive force.

Mitchel H. Cohen United States Courthouse in Camden, N.J.

Mitchell H. Cohen United States Courthouse in Camden, N.J. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Frank Nucera Jr., the former New Jersey police chief accused of striking a handcuffed black teenager out of racial bias, was found guilty Wednesday of lying to the FBI during its investigation.

But after more than 36 hours of deliberations over six days, jurors still had not reached a decision on the two more serious charges against Nucera: that he committed hate-crime assault and violated the teenager’s constitutional rights by using excessive force.

After Judge Robert B. Kugler asked them whether they would like to continue deliberating on those counts, which carry a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine, they said they would decide on Thursday morning and went home for the day.

Nucera, who is white, exhibited no emotion as the jury forewoman read the verdict. The man who led the Bordentown Township Police Department for a decade now faces up to five years in prison when sentenced at a later date, provided the jury does not convict him on the other counts.

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Jurors wrote in a note Tuesday they were deadlocked on two counts, but they did not specify which ones.

Nucera, 62, was the first police officer charged with a federal hate crime in a decade, according to CNN. The case was extraordinary both for its lurid allegations and the people who made them: fellow officers who broke the “blue wall of silence” to secretly record their boss and bring the files to the FBI.

The charges stemmed from a Sept. 1, 2016 call to police from the Bordentown Ramada hotel that Timothy Stroye, then 18, and his 16-year-old girlfriend were swimming in the pool without paying for a room.

After a physical struggle, police got Stroye into handcuffs and were leading him out of the hotel when Nucera allegedly approached the teen from behind and slammed his head into a metal doorjamb.

Prosecutors argued the assault was motivated by racial hatred. As proof, they presented secret recordings in which Nucera can be heard later that day referring to black people by the N-word and warning them to “stay the f— out of Bordentown.”

He also says it would have been “nice” to have released a police dog on Stroye and the group he was with, adding at another point: “I’m f—ing tired of them, man. I’ll tell you what, it’s gonna get to the point where I could shoot one of these motherf—ers.”

Jurors apparently were only partially convinced by the testimony of Bordentown Township police officers Nathan Roohr and Sal Guido, who were the only two people at the trial who said they witnessed Nucera commit an assault. Roohr testified that the chief grabbed Stroye’s head in his hand “like a basketball” and pushed it into the door so hard it made a “loud thud.”

The jury agreed with prosecutors that Nucera had lied to FBI agents when he said repeatedly in a subsequent interview that he didn’t touch Stroye.

But the hate-crime and excessive force charges were premised on Nucera having assaulted the teenager — a tougher allegation to prove.

During the trial, defense attorney Rocco Cipparone had assailed the officers’ credibility, asserting Nucera never hit the teen and repeatedly calling attention to inconsistent statements the officers made in the course of the FBI’s investigation.

Prosecutors said the officers had no reason to lie. In speaking out against their boss, they had put their careers and livelihoods on the line.

With the guilty verdict, Nucera, who is retired, could also lose his $106,000 annual pension. He was a 34-year member of the police force and also served as a township administrator in the Burlington County town of about 12,000 residents.

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