The former chief of a small township in New Jersey has been arrested on federal hate crime and civil rights charges for what federal authorities described as a pattern of racist comments and behavior — including slamming an African American teen’s head into a metal door jamb and saying that black people are “like ISIS.”
Frank Nucera Jr., 60, who had been chief of the Bordentown Township Police Department, was arrested, and the charges against him were unsealed Wednesday. The allegations are notable for the blatant racism they describe in a law enforcement leader.
According to a criminal complaint in the case, filed in federal district court in New Jersey, Nucera frequently referred to African Americans by racial slurs and espoused violence toward them. In November 2015, for example, when he was talking to a subordinate officer about an African American man he believed to have slashed the tires of a police vehicle, Nucera said, “I wish that n‑‑‑‑‑ would come back from Trenton and give me a reason to put my hands on him, I’m tired of ’em. These n‑‑‑‑‑s are like ISIS, they have no value. They should line them all up and mow ’em down. I’d like to be on the firing squad, I could do it,” according to the complaint.
Nucera also used police dogs to intimidate African Americans, bringing canines to high school basketball games when his department was providing security and positioning them near the entrance to the gym, federal authorities alleged.
Efforts to reach Nucera’s family members were not immediately successful, and no lawyer was listed for him in court records. Federal authorities said Nucera retired from the police department shortly after New Jersey’s attorney general was informed of the investigation.
In 2014, Nucera was reportedly shot in the leg by his own gun after some kind of interaction with a preteen at the municipal building.
Civil liberties advocates have criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for trying to undo efforts of the Obama administration to mandate reforms at police departments. President Trump’s top law enforcement official has ordered his department to review all the court-supervised reform agreements it has with police departments nationwide, saying it was necessary to ensure that these pacts do not work against the Trump administration’s goals of promoting officer safety and morale while fighting violent crime. He also rolled back a different Obama-era effort to investigate police departments and work with them out of court to fix their failings.
But Sessions has indicated a willingness to prosecute individual officers accused of wrongdoing. Nucera’s case — while so egregious it is hard to ignore — might provide some evidence of that. The charges were described in an affidavit signed by an FBI agent and approved by a federal prosecutor in the New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The physical violence of which Nucera is accused occurred in September 2016. According to the criminal complaint, the manager of a Ramada hotel called police to report that two African American teens, an 18-year-old man and a 16-year-old girl, had failed to pay for a hotel room the night before and were swimming in the hotel pool.
When officers arrived, according to the complaint, the teens resisted arrest. One of the officers pepper-sprayed the 18-year-old, and both teens were eventually handcuffed and taken into custody, according to the complaint.
Several minutes later, as officers were walking the 18-year-old toward a stairwell, the teen briefly stopped and began shouting, according to the complaint. Though he was not kicking or struggling, Nucera approached, grabbed the teen’s head and slammed it into a metal door jamb, according to the complaint.
The officers involved described the incident to investigators, though one said he did not report it initially because he feared retaliation from Nucera. The teen initially asked to go to the hospital, complaining of a possible concussion, but ultimately changed his mind and was jailed, according to the complaint.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Nucera was the chief of the Bordentown Township Police Department and that charges in the case were unsealed Wednesday.