Nucera, 62, is charged with a hate crime, deprivation of the suspect’s rights and making false statements to the FBI in connection with the September 2016 arrest of an 18-year-old black man.
Two officers were escorting the handcuffed teenager from a hotel into a police car when Nucera approached the teen from behind and slammed his head into a metal doorjamb, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in New Jersey.
The incident was part of what prosecutors alleged to be a “significant history” of racist behavior in which Nucera referred to African Americans with the n-word, compared them with the Islamic State, said he’d like to shoot them on a firing squad and tried to use police dogs to intimidate them. Bordentown, located outside the state capital of Trenton, is 77 percent white and 13 percent black.
The allegations represent striking racism from a jurisdiction’s top law enforcement officer and nod at the racial tensions underlying the 2016 presidential election. Trump’s campaign rallies were overwhelmingly white, while Clinton, the Democratic nominee, emphasized racial issues during some of the biggest speeches of her campaign.
Nucera’s comment about Trump came after a sergeant brought up the teenager’s arrest as he covertly recorded the chief, according to NJ.com. Sgt. Nathan Roohr and the FBI decided to tell Nucera a falsehood that the teenager’s family planned to sue the police department.
Roohr mentioned that Nucera allegedly had slammed the teen’s head into a doorjamb and said the teen’s family had recorded the incident, NJ.com reported.
“If they took that video and screen-shotted it with your hand on his head, that’s ugly,” Roohr said on the audio recording, according to NJ.com.
“Remember they’re the ones that started the fight and hurt Shawn, and Shawn went to the hospital,” Nucera reportedly responded, referring to another officer involved in the arrest. “He was resisting.”
Rocco Cipparone, an attorney for Nucera, told The Washington Post he asked the jury to distinguish between criminal justice and social justice. Nucera losing his job and being vilified by the public constitute the social justice response to his racist words, Cipparone said. But criminal justice applies only if Nucera slammed the teen’s head for racially motivated reasons.
“What I told the jury is that I think the prosecution wants to keep shoving the words down the jury’s throat to deflect from the inadequacies of proof that Frank Nucera ever laid hands on (the teenager)," Cipparone said.
The arrest in question began when the manager at a Ramada hotel in Bordentown called police to say two young people had failed to pay for their room the previous night and were now swimming in the pool, the criminal complaint says. Two police officers went to the hotel and tried to question the 18-year-old and a 16-year-old girl, the complaint says, but the conversation became a physical altercation.
The teenagers allegedly resisted arrest, and an officer used pepper spray on the 18-year-old. Nucera and other officers arrived at the Ramada as backup and placed the teens under arrest.
As officers guided the 18-year-old toward the stairwell door, the complaint says he stopped and shouted at the officers. One officer put his hand on the teen’s back and pushed him forward. Then Nucera allegedly grabbed the teenager’s head and slammed it into the doorjamb, although the teen had not been struggling, according to the complaint.
The teenager later complained of head pain and a possible concussion but ultimately declined to go to the hospital.
Nucera resigned from the police department in early 2017 when he discovered the FBI was investigating him, NJ.com reported. He was arrested months later.
Nucera collects an annual pension of nearly $106,000, public records show.