When a hotel manager called 911 to report that a disorderly guest was refusing to leave the pool and a responding officer requested backup, Bordentown Township Police Chief Frank Nucera Jr. rushed to the scene on a rainy summer night. The chief joined a handful of patrolmen, including a K-9 officer and his barking dog, in answering that call in September 2016.
Now, dash-cam video, 911 tapes, and police logs obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News shed fresh light on an encounter at the Bordentown Ramada hotel that prosecutors say ended with a young black man beaten while handcuffed — and that led to Nucera’s resignation and eventual arrest on federal hate-crime charges.
Federal prosecutors say the chief slammed the teen’s head into a metal doorjamb, causing “a loud thud” heard by witnesses, as he was being escorted out of the hotel. Authorities said the attack was racially motivated.
Nucera, 61, is at the center of a hate-crime case that rocked the small police department and made national headlines. He is expected to stand trial in federal court in Camden later this year, charged with the assault on Timothy Stroye, then 18, of Trenton, and with the frequent use of racial epithets that were caught on tape. Authorities quoted Nucera as saying blacks were “like ISIS; they have no value” and that he wished he could join a firing squad to “mow them down.”
Nucera, who had been the police chief and town administrator since 2006, also ordered police dogs to be deployed at high school basketball games to intimidate black spectators, authorities said.
Officers in his police department “saw what was going on, knew it was wrong, had enough, and called the FBI,” former U.S. District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said after the charges against Nucera were announced late last year.
Fitzpatrick said one officer, whom authorities have not identified, secretly taped Nucera during a yearlong investigation.
Nucera has denied the charges and pleaded not guilty. He is free on $500,000 unsecured bond. Throughout the saga, he has declined to comment.
His lawyer, Rocco Cipparone Jr., said this week that he is analyzing more than 100 hours of tapes made during the investigation. He questioned the motives of the officer who made the recordings and said the tapes appear to have been edited and distort Nucera’s remarks.
Earlier this month, Cipparone requested more time to prepare his defense, and the judge gave him two more months to do that. “It takes a long time to go through and map this all out,” Cipparone said.
After news of the charges against Nucera broke, residents demanded answers on how the chief’s allegedly racist behavior went unnoticed and unreported for years in the predominantly white community of about 11,000 about 40 miles northeast of Philadelphia. Township officials said they could not comment before the trial.
Others were more vocal.
“The chief operated in a rogue and racist manner. He did it with malice,” said civil rights activist Walter L. Hudson Sr. of Penns Grove, founder of the National Awareness Alliance. “This is the playbook of police brutality when it comes to black and brown people.”
“You can be a bigot and be a cop,” said Jon Shane, an associate professor of criminal justice at the City University of New York and a former Newark police captain. “When the officer acts on it and takes some kind of force and during the use of force, they’re throwing around the N-word or calling someone a filthy Arab … then you have a problem.”
In the dash-cam video, the chief, wearing a pink shirt and a tie, met up with five uniformed officers who responded to a call for backup from the two officers dispatched to investigate a report that a “black male” had failed to pay his $65 hotel bill and refused to get out of the pool.
Three officers radioed in to say they were en route after the 6:53 p.m. call went out. The dispatcher waved off a fourth officer, saying “we should be all right” and added that two other units had arrived at the scene.
Within minutes, yet another officer called in to report that he would “be there momentarily.”
Soon, there was chaos, with officers running in different directions after they discovered that no one was in the pool.
“Where you guys at?” one asked, and the question was echoed by other officers in search of their colleagues and the reportedly disorderly guest. One or two K-9 dogs barked fiercely, adding to the sound of a pounding rain.
Minutes earlier, Stroye and one of the first officers on the scene had gotten into a scuffle inside the hotel, leading to the call for backup. Police said Stroye resisted arrest, prompting the officer to pepper-spray him and call for backup. The officer suffered a back injury in the tussle, they said.
In an interview with the Inquirer and Daily News, Stroye recalled that two of the four backup officers who approached him had their hands on their guns. “I thought they were going to shoot me,” he said.
After Stroye was subdued and standing at the top of the stairwell in handcuffs, he said, Nucera struck him from behind. Stroye said that he reacted by threatening to spit on the chief, who taunted him, saying: “I’ll uncuff you, and then I’ll see how tough you are.”
The charges against Stroye were later dismissed. He declined further comment this week.
Stroye’s encounter with Nucera was not captured on video because Bordentown police were not equipped with body cameras at the time of the incident. There were no surveillance cameras in the hotel stairwell, police said.
The Inquirer and Daily News obtained the footage from a dashboard camera mounted in a patrol vehicle, the 911 tapes, police activity logs, and use-of-force reports through open public records requests. Together, they offer a fuller picture of the events of that night.
The logs revealed that Nucera had a penchant for showing up at routine calls, even when he was off duty. Among the calls he responded to were such routine things as reports of a burglar alarm, motor-vehicle stops, and even pedestrian violations. In all, the records show, the chief showed up to answer such calls about 1,000 times in 2015 and 2016.
In one instance, a longtime African American resident who complained that police harassed him when he was out jogging in his neighborhood said Nucera appeared after police were called to investigate an interracial couple’s playful antics on a park bench.
“I could hear sirens. Two police cars pulled up. They were there for a few minutes, and here comes the chief,” Bob Moore, 80, said in a recent interview. “Why would the chief jump into his car to come to an event like this?”
After the incident at the Ramada, Nucera was caught on tape at the police station saying: “It’s gonna get to the point where I could shoot one of these n——,” authorities said. Then he turned his attention to the aunt of the teenage girl who was charged along with Stroye for resisting arrest.
Nucera used an expletive to describe the aunt and said she “almost got it” that night, authorities said in the complaint against Nucera. He told the officer who taped him that he warned the aunt: “You’re getting close to getting thrown on the f—— floor. Get back,” authorities said.
That recounting echoes remarks caught on the 911 tape as a frightened woman argued with an officer and shouted, “That’s my niece!” A girl’s cry could be heard in the background. An officer, presumably Nucera, responded by saying, “Get back,” and then told the aunt: “You started it.”
Nucera was also captured on that tape saying: “It would have been nice if that f—— dog could have come up. ‘Cause they would have stopped, put down… ,’ ” authorities said.
Minutes after Stroye and the girl were removed from the building, the dispatcher had an exchange with someone he called “Sir,” likely Nucera, since he had addressed all the other officers by their badge numbers during the 911 call. The dispatcher asked: “Still in the building, Sir, or did you go outside?” The dispatcher said the lieutenant wanted to meet with him and needed to know his location.
The reply: “Coming up the steps, but I’m listening,” he answered with labored breathing. His voice was similar to that of the officer who had argued with the aunt.
Another voice could be heard saying: “I’m in the lower level, right by the lobby.” The 911 tape provided to the Inquirer and Daily News stops there.
The dash-cam video ends differently. It shows Stroye being escorted to a police vehicle parked outside the Ramada’s entrance. He was still squinting from the sting of the pepper spray, barefoot and shirtless after a swim in a hotel pool took a bad turn.