Civil rights, hate crime trial of ex-police chief to open

Acting New Jersey U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick, center, speaks during a news conference in Camden, N.J., Nov. 1, 2017. Authorities on Wednesday announced civil rights and hate crime charges against Frank Nucera. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

CAMDEN, N.J. (AP) - Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday for the federal trial of a white former New Jersey police chief accused of slamming a handcuffed black man's head into a doorjamb.

Once a jury is empaneled, opening statements are expected Friday in the civil rights and hate crime trial of 62-year-old Frank Nucera, former Bordentown Township police chief.

Prosecutors allege that he approached the 18-year-old prisoner from behind in September 2016 and smashed his head into a doorjamb while the suspect was being escorted by two officers from a hotel. They allege a fellow officer then recorded him making a series of derogatory comments in which he used a racial slur.

Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick said the man wasn't endangering the officers and that assault was driven by "racial hatred," on the part of Nucera, who retired in January 2017 amid an FBI investigation. He faces charges of hate crime assault, deprivation of civil rights and lying to FBI agents.

Prosecutors say one of Nucera's police officers secretly recorded his comments over the course of a year because, they say, he was "increasingly alarmed by (Nucera's) racist remarks and hostility toward African Americans."

Defense attorney Rocco Cipparone Jr., who tried unsuccessfully to block jurors from hearing what he called "rogue recordings," acknowledged that they contain "inflammatory language" but said there was no admission to roughing up the suspect.

"I'm confident the government will not prove its case," he said earlier this week.

Prosecutors also allege that Nucera, who also served as a township administrator before retiring, used police dogs to intimidate African-Americans, including stationing them at high school basketball games to intimidate black fans.

Bordentown is a predominantly white town of about 11,000 a few miles from New Jersey's majority African American capital city of Trenton.