Updated: Wednesday, November 1, 2017, 8:44 PM
The former police chief of Bordentown Township said blacks are “like ISIS, they have no value,” mused about joining a firing squad to mow them down, and used police dogs to intimidate black spectators at high school basketball games, federal authorities said Wednesday in announcing assault and hate-crime charges against him.
Frank M. Nucera Jr. has “a significant history of making racist comments concerning African Americans,” according to a criminal complaint filed by the FBI in federal court in Camden.
The charges stem from an incident a year ago in which Nucera allegedly attacked a handcuffed black suspect who was already in police control in the Burlington County town. He made a series of anti-black remarks following the assault, authorities said, remarks that were secretly recorded by an officer in his department who was alarmed by the chief’s hostility toward the community.
In the Sept. 1, 2016, incident, an 18-year-old African American man, accused of not paying his motel bill, was pepper-sprayed and placed in handcuffs, and was being led to the top of a motel stairwell by two Bordentown Township officers when Nucera arrived. The chief approached the suspect from behind and “slammed his head into a door jamb,” according to an affidavit filed by the FBI.
Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick and FBI Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher announced the bias and civil rights charges at a news conference at federal court in Camden, where Nucera later appeared before a magistrate judge and was ordered held on $500,000 bail.
An officer who witnessed the 2016 incident said the suspect was “shouting at the officers” while at the top of the stairwell and being led to a police cruiser, but was “not kicking or struggling,” the affidavit said. When the man’s head hit the metal door jamb, it made “a loud thud,” the officer reported. A second officer, who was standing next to the suspect, described the blow as “significant” and said he also pushed his shoulder into the door jamb while forcing him and the suspect through the doorway.
Following a 2015 incident involving another African American suspect, whom Nucera suspected of slashing the tires of a police vehicle, the chief allegedly confided in an officer that “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.”
His alleged animosity toward blacks was also expressed in other ways, authorities said.
“Nucera … also ordered the racially discriminatory use of police dogs to intimidate African Americans,” according to the complaint. “For example, when the BTPD provided security for high school basketball games, defendant Nucera instructed police officers to bring canines to certain games and to position the canine vehicles at the entrance to the gymnasium in order to intimidate African American patrons.”
Some of Nucera’s alleged statements were secretly recorded by an officer in the department, the FBI affidavit said.
Nucera, 60, of Bordentown Township, made his first appearance in federal court in Camden on Wednesday after he was taken into custody. Grim-faced and shackled, he glanced briefly at two women in the back row, but showed no emotion. The women later declined comment.
Magistrate Judge Ann Marie Donio set bail at $500,000 in unsecured bonds and ordered Nucera to surrender any guns he had in his home, and his passport and any other travel documents.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Lorber said Nucera had six guns registered to his name, but wasn’t clear on how many he still owned. She requested the $500,000 bail, saying that he has “significant financial assets” and that the government wants to ensure he appears at trial.
Mount Holly lawyer Tracy Riley, who represented Nucera, objected, saying Nucera had never been charged with a crime before, had community ties, and had a military record. She also said she expected he might be able to make bail within 24 hours. She said he would voluntarily surrender his weapons but would like them to be provided to a family member who is with the police department. Nucera’s son is a sergeant in the department.
The judge said the guns should at least initially be handed over to the FBI.
Nucera waived a formal preliminary hearing and offered only brief responses, such as “Yes, your honor” and “I understand,” when questioned by the judge. Dressed in jeans and a gray sweatshirt, he showed no visible emotion.
Nucera resigned from the 25-member police department — and as administrator of the township of 11,000 — in January after learning he was being investigated for “racially motivated use of excessive force.”
According to the FBI affidavit, Nucera was among the backup officers who showed up at the Bordentown Ramada hotel after a hotel clerk complained the 18-year-old man and a 16-year-old girl, both African Americans, had not paid for their hotel room the night before. Backup was summoned when the teens tried to resist arrest, the affidavit said.
The suspect was restrained and “not a threat to anyone in the community,” Fitzpatrick said.
In a back-and-forth with an officer, Nucera alluded to the two people in custody as being from Trenton, whose residents are predominantly African American, in contrast with Bordentown Township, which is majority white, the affidavit said.
“The nobility of police officers is rooted in their selfless commitment to protect our communities and their pledge to honor our constitutional values. As chief of the Bordentown Township Police Department, the defendant dishonored the profession by doing neither,” Fitzpatrick said.
He said his office did not anticipate bringing charges against anyone else in the department. “This is a crime identified by Bordentown police officers who saw what was going on, knew it was wrong, and came forward,” he said.
He declined to name the officer who recorded Nucera secretly as the chief allegedly made racist remarks.
Burlington County Prosecutor Scott A. Coffina underscored Fitzpatrick’s praise for the conduct of the other officers.
In a statement, Coffina said he was “heartened that the FBI’s thorough investigation concluded that this behavior was confined to the individual who has been charged [and] is not a reflection of the culture of the Bordentown Township Police Department, its current leadership, or the dedicated officers on the force.”
Bordentown Township Mayor Steve Benowitz, in a statement, also noted that the “charges began from a self-reported complaint” from within the department and said the township “has moved forward with new leadership that promotes community, inclusion, and equality.”
If convicted, Nucera would face a maximum of 20 years in prison and $500,000 in fines.