A mostly white jury in the Camden Federal Courthouse began to hear the government’s hate crime case against former Bordentown Township police chief Frank Nucera Jr. He’s accused of slamming the head of a teenager in custody into a metal door jamb five years ago.
In their opening argument Friday morning, prosecutors warned jurors that they would hear offensive words because Nucera has been charged with a hate crime.
Specifically, Nucera is accused of hate crime assault and depriving the rights of the victim, Timothy Stroye. Also, this is a new trial after a jury was deadlocked on similar charges two years ago.
“The defendant’s own words is the best evidence we have,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Lorber told the jury.
As she began, Lorber quoted Nucera, as recorded secretly by fellow officer and subordinate Nathan Roohr, saying “f****** n******” should “stay the f*** out of Bordentown.” She only said the profanity and slurs once during her entire argument which was about 15 minutes.
Lorber said that Nucera held a deep animosity towards African-Americans that erupted into the violence that occurred during an incident a Ramada Inn on Sept. 1, 2016.
Police were called to the hotel where a manager said that 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 door jamb.
“No one will say that Stroye acted properly,” Lorber said as she stood at a lectern facing the jury while delivering her opening argument.
She added that Nucera not only violated his oath as an officer but the constitution as well; slamming Stroye’s head so hard into the frame “you heard a thud.” She offered that officers didn’t say anything when it happened out of shock and for fear of retaliation.
Stroye died of an apparent drug overdose in January, according to The Trentonian.
Nucera was sitting at the defendant’s table wearing a slate blue shirt with a diamond-patterned tie and gray slacks. He and his attorney, Rocco Cipparone, whispered to each other at least once as Lorber delivered her opening. They also took notes throughout her presentation.
Following a break, at the same lectern, Cipparone told the jury that he had “the daunting task to defend an innocent man.”
“She tells a good story,” he said of Lorber delivering the prosecution’s opening statement, “but the evidence does not support it.”
Thus begins a 45-minute rebuke of the government’s case with Nucera looking on.
“Criminal Justice does not equal social justice,” Cipparone said. “The government is asking you to conflate the two.”
Cipparone delivered his opening with help of a PowerPoint presentation with a black background and lettering in either red, white or green to emphasize his points. Holding his computer mouse as a clicker to put his points on the screen, Cipparone would walk in a type of triangle pattern behind the lectern while delivering his opening statement – two steps to the left, two steps to the right, three steps back, and three steps forward.
The counselor for Nucera argued that social justice “can punish words” while criminal justice “cannot punish words.” He conceded that Nucera used “ugly words” and did not condone his using the slurs. At one point in his opening, Cipparone referenced his client being ostracized for what he has said by the public. He turned to Nucera and told him “he should be.”
Cipparone also accused Roohr and current Bordentown Township Police Chief Brian Pesce of starting a “Bad Frank Diary” against Nucera to push him out as police chief.
After opening statements, prosecutors called Pesce as their first witness. He was a captain overseeing internal affairs at the time of the original incident. Pesce was the only witness called for the day.
There is no official word on how long the trial will last. However, it’s expected to continue for at least a couple of weeks.