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Mistrial for ex-police chief charged with hate crime assault on handcuffed black teen

A jury in the trial of a former New Jersey police chief accused of assaulting a handcuffed black teen because of "intense racial animus" has deadlocked on federal hate crime assault and civil rights deprivations charges. The same jury convicted former Bordentown Township Police Chief Frank Nucera Jr. of lying to the FBI about the case on Wednesday.

Federal prosecutors said Nucera, 62, was motivated by racial hatred when he allegedly slammed the teen's head into a door jam during a 2016 arrest at a Bordentown hotel. Nucera, who had pleaded not guilty, retired in 2017 amid an FBI investigation. The jury, which has nine white people and three black people, deliberated for more than 45 hours over the course of eight days.

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Nucera had also previously served as township administrator in Bordentown, a predominantly white town located a few miles away from New Jersey's capital city of Trenton, which is majority African-American.

Prosecutors alleged Nucera had a "significant history" of making racist and violent comments, and officers in his own department were so disturbed they began secretly recording the former chief. One of them, key prosecution witness Sgt. Nathan Roohr, made 81 such recordings over the course of a year. Roohr was also one of two officers who testified they saw Nucera assault 18-year-old Timothy Stroye, which Nucera has denied. 

Criminal justice experts and civil rights advocates say it's "exceedingly rare" for a law enforcement officer to be charged with a federal hate crime. Bowling Green State University criminal justice professor Philip Stinson, who closely tracks cases of officers charged with misconduct, could not find another case of an officer charged under the same federal hate crime statute in a database he maintains of cases between 2005 and 2014.

"It's unusual, and it's troubling," Stinson said.

Nucera was among several officers who responded to the Bordentown hotel, where Stroye had been accused of swimming in the hotel's pool without paying for a room. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Roohr said Stroye was handcuffed and not resisting arrest when Nucera grabbed the teen's head "like a basketball" and shoved it into the door jam, making a "loud thud."

According to Roohr, who would later tip off the FBI, Nucera used racial slurs hours after the incident at the hotel while referring to the teen, his girlfriend and their family members. When Nucera learned the teens were from Trenton, he allegedly said, "Stay the f--- out of Bordentown."

"I'm f--- tired of them, man," Nucera said in the recording, according to prosecution court filings. "I'll tell you what, it's getting to the point where I could shoot one of these m-----f------. And that n----- b------ lady, she almost got it."
 
About three months later, while attempting to defend his use of force, prosecutors say Nucera was recorded saying officers were called to the hotel "cause of six unruly f----- n------."

Nucera later denied assaulting the teen in a recorded conversation with the FBI.

The officer also recorded Nucera in November 2015 making racist comments while speaking about an African-American man he suspected of slashing the tires of a police vehicle, prosecutors say. Nucera allegedly said: "These n---- 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. I used to think about if I could shoot someone or not, I could do it, I'm tired of it."

Prosecutors also presented a transcript of one of the recordings in which Nucera, during the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, called Donald Trump "the last hope for white people," the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Rocco Cipparone, a lawyer for Nucera, told CBS News the former chief admits making the comments and is remorseful. But, he says the government doesn't have evidence to prove their allegations, which Nucera denies.  Cipparone said there are no video recordings of the incident, and he pointed to what he called "material differences" in the prosecution's version of events.

"Mr. Nucera said some pretty socially unacceptable and inappropriate comments of a racial nature, but as the judge told every juror we interviewed and selected, it's not a crime even for police officers to use those terms," Cipparone told CBS News before the trial launched. "So unless the government proves Frank Nucera struck [Stroye] and struck him because of his race, he's not guilty."

Nucera faces up to five years in prison on the charge of lying to the FBI. He had faced up to 20 years on the hate crime and civil rights charges. 

Nucera also stands to lose his $8,800 monthly police pension, which had been frozen pending the trial's outcome, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer's Melanie Burney. A state treasury spokesman told Burney the pension board will meet after the verdict to "decide whether to forfeit any of his pension service credit of salary."

A judge scheduled Nucera's sentencing for Feb. 6.

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