The trial of a New Jersey police officer who is being accused of civil rights violations and committing a hate crime after he assaulted a teen reveals the two-sided way police think about evidence and racism.
Hate Crime Trial Against Police Chief Begins
Back in September 2016, police arrested an 18-year-old black man in Bordentown, New Jersey, for swimming in a hotel pool without paying for a room. The man was handcuffed and was being escorted by police out of the hotel, posing no threat to anyone.
But that didn't stop Bordentown police chief Frank Nucera from coming up behind the suspect and smashing his head into a doorjamb.
Other police officers in the department had been so concerned about Nucera's views on African-Americans that several of them secretly recorded over 100 hours of the police chief's conversations. They started the recordings after Nucera compared black people to ISIS, saying they should all be shot and volunteering to pull the trigger, himself.
The recordings captured numerous other passages in a similar vein.
Now, Nucera has been accused of a federal hate crime and is facing trial. Prosecutors say that his racial animus led to his assault on the teen in the hotel.
For Police, Indirect Evidence of Intent Doesn't Count
Most crimes require at least some level of intent, or a culpable state of mind. Without that element of the crime, criminal conduct that was accidental would be just as severe as what was intentionally done.
Showing this intent usually involves pointing to other statements or actions that indirectly suggest a thought process or attitude towards something. For example, police often say it's evidence of an intent to commit fraud if you “just so happen” to increase your insurance the day before a fire wrecks your home.
If you listen to police, though, the reliability of that indirect connection between prior statements and later conduct disappears when they are the ones being accused of a crime. Prosecutors in Nucera's case say his recorded statements betray his intent to hurt black suspects. Nucera is saying that the recorded statements absolve him because he never admits to the crime.
Police: Racism Has to Cause Particular Actions
Similarly, Nucera's defense relies on a perverted concept of racism: It can only taint a particular course of conduct, rather than all of them. In the eyes of the police, you can only be racist if you express your hate of a particular person or a single episode in the field – there has to be a particular target of the racist commentary.
But that's not how racism works. Racism is a latent negative attitude that taints all of your interactions. It's not a defense to say that you only expressed your racist attitudes in a generalized way and that you never made it specific to a particular person. It's still there, permeating your conduct subconsciously.
Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer Joseph D. Lento
The two-sided way that police officers tend to think about evidence and racism has very real consequences. If you have been accused of a crime in the Philadelphia area, you need legal help to combat them. Call criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento at (215) 535-5353 or contact him online.