May 16th, 2014
08:42 AM ET
4 years ago

Police commissioner refuses to apologize for Obama slur

–updated 10:27pm

(CNN) - A police commissioner in a northern New England town says he won't apologize for calling President Barack Obama the "n" word.

Robert Copeland, 82, sat with his arms crossed at a packed town meeting Thursday evening while a crowd of angry residents of predominantly white Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, called for his resignation.

Copeland acknowledged in a statement that he used the racial slur to describe Obama, and said that his use of derogatory language "is no secret."

Jane O'Toole, who moved to Wolfeboro four months ago, told CNN's Erin Burnett she overheard Copeland use the word at a restaurant in March.

O'Toole described the encounter on CNN, substituting "n-word" for the term she said Copeland used at the time. After he was asked a question about a particular TV show, the commissioner allegedly said, "I don't watch TV because every time I do all I ever see is that (expletive) 'n' word."

"It was extraordinarily loud. It wasn't like we were listening in on a quiet conversation. It was loud and just reverberated through the restaurant," O'Toole said on "Erin Burnett OutFront" on Friday night.

As she was leaving the restaurant, O'Toole told CNN she approached Copeland.

"I passed him and quietly said, 'Is someone here tossing around the 'n' word?' And he puffed up and turned around and said 'yeah.'"

She said she wrote to the town manager about the incident, and Copeland replied with a letter to O'Toole.

According to CNN affiliate WMUR the letter stated, "I believe I did use the 'N' word in reference to the current occupant of the Whitehouse (sic)," Copeland wrote. "For this, I do not apologize - he meets and exceeds my criteria for such."

O'Toole told CNN, "A lot of people said to me, don't rock the boat, you know, it's a small town, don't. But I just - it just didn't sit right with me."

Copeland is one of three members of the police commission, which hires, fires and disciplines officers and sets their salaries. Two months ago, he ran unopposed for re-election and secured another three-year term.

The police commission plans to meet to discuss what action they should take against Copeland, but members didn't tell the audience Thursday where or when that meeting would take place.

CNN spoke with Wolfeboro Police Chief Stuart Chase, who said that Copeland can't be "fired" since he's an elected official. Chase told CNN that Copeland can either resign, or the board of commissioners can move to recall his election and hold a special election to replace him.

Since there was no resolution at the gathering, some of those attending the meeting later confronted Copeland outside.

"I admitted what I did. I made no bone about it," Copeland said to those who followed him as he walked to his car.

And he became angry when WMUR recorded the confrontation, referring to reporter Nick Spinetto as a "nosy individual."

When Spinetto responded that he was a reporter doing his job, Copeland fired back, "I know what you are. You're a skunk. Goodbye."

Wolfeboro, located in the scenic Lakes Region in the central part of New Hampshire, has an estimated 20 African-American residents among its population of 6,300.

The town was often a dateline in news reports during the 2012 presidential election, with GOP nominee Mitt Romney spending time with family and campaign aides at his vacation home on Lake Winnipesaukee.

- CNN's Stephanie Gallman and Cassie Spodak contributed to this report.

Filed under: New Hampshire • President Obama
soundoff (179 Responses)
  1. Anthony

    Some Republicans don't like it when people call them racists. Stop calling other races names then. Stop attacking people with words that have strong racial overtones (for example, inner-city or illegals) then. If you stop attacking people with words that have strong racial overtones, other people will stop calling you racists.

    May 16, 2014 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  2. kneesus

    Tea Party poster boy.

    May 16, 2014 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  3. TONE

    This country have mostly moved on in terms of race relations, but there are still a few pockets of ignorant jerks still fuelling this hate. their minds are very small incapable of independent thought process so they have to resort to hateful rantings, to feel inportant to anyone who will listen. Rightwingers anyone?

    May 16, 2014 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  4. Joe

    Evolution is a painfully slow process.

    May 16, 2014 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  5. Democratic Titanic

    Obama has brought us to race, and gender wars. That is the REAL story. What this guy said is inconsequential – albeit wrong.

    May 16, 2014 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  6. ShawnDH

    But opposition to Obama isn't about race! Sure. Typical Republican.

    May 16, 2014 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  7. James

    He 82 he opinionated, he cant change with the times... you know what that means? ...Pasture time old guy!!!

    May 16, 2014 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  8. ShawnDH

    King Barry wrote: "What law did he break?"

    None. He just humiliated his town and highlighted the ignorant racist fanatcism of America's right-wing crazies. His town may deem him unfit to lead, in which case he should resign in shame.

    May 16, 2014 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  9. w1nluv

    This guy should not be a police commissioner. They need to vote him out.

    May 16, 2014 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  10. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Well one thing about it cobra, I guarantee he's more intelligent and has more class than you.

    May 16, 2014 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  11. Alice

    I don't like what he said, but he has a right to free speech and look at his age, he's 82. He was most likely raised to believe this is acceptable, he isn't going to change now. Even if he apologized, he wouldn't really mean it. If he unfairly uses his beliefs when hiring, firing, or even handing down discipline, then he should be removed.

    May 16, 2014 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  12. Bill from GA

    Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross....." ... I feel bad for any blacks that live there. A lynching could jump off at any given moment and those involved would just walk. "

    When you equate the words of one person to an entire region, judging them all on the words of one, is that any better than racism? If you read the article, most of the people were shocked and want something done. AGAINST the police commissioner.

    i get fed up, as a Southerner, with 'liberals' thinking everyone of a region thinks the same. i voted, 2 or 3 times, for probably the most liberal black women ever in Congress,Cynthia McKinney. And I was glad to replace her with a reasonable black man.

    So let the townspeople deal with this and then judge them.

    May 16, 2014 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  13. Norm

    He'll be dead soon. His entire generation will be dead soon, and their racist culture dies with them. And everyday more Republicans die than join that messed up party.

    May 16, 2014 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  14. midwest2

    If someone made a truly derogatory, racial/ethnic slur against a sitting Republican president, the tea-baggers and their ilk would be on the airwaves condemning that person for being un-American, and would call for h/her arrest!

    May 16, 2014 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  15. LEE

    And Racism is a thing of the past? Cmon Man!

    May 16, 2014 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  16. Randy

    The USA will be a better place when that generation of bigot hate mongers dies off and goes to hell.

    May 16, 2014 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  17. smith

    @Jeff Brown- When was this fool named the spokesman for the GOP? Bundy, Sterling, and this fool only speak for themselves. Show me ties these idiots have to the GOP.

    May 16, 2014 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  18. Peace

    Forgive me for what I write. It has to take at least 2 to 3 decades to be free from these kind of people. They were born that way, they grew up that way and soon they are going to die that way.

    May 16, 2014 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  19. Hick Town

    Come to my town. You'll here much worse.

    May 16, 2014 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  20. Rudy NYC


    I often remember the writings of Evelyn Beatrice Hall and her quote about Voltaire's attitude toward free speech. "I may not agree with what you say but will defend your right to say it". The founding Fathers of the US were learned men. It appears modern men do no share that insight.
    Everyone has the right to act like a moron, or even talk like one. But, when you start saying extremely offensive things about the CEO of the company that your work for, aka YOUR BOSS, then you're going to criticized and should eventually be fired.

    May 16, 2014 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  21. Bill from GA

    Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross....."Look at that face. That's the exact same look I see on older white males"

    As an 'older white male' (I'm over 60). you should see my face when I watch the local evening news and see all those black thugs stealing, robbing, killing, mostly other, decent, black people. Fortunately, I don't judge all black people, such as my neighbors, based on the actions of the worst.

    May 16, 2014 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  22. gdnctr

    Where in The Bill of Rights or US Constitution does it say "you have the right not to be offended"?

    May 16, 2014 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  23. Joi Gibson

    I call out COBRA!

    President Barack Obama has more class in his little finger than you will ever possess. Your post is disgusting and CNN should not tolerate it.

    This commissioner should be recalled right quick and in a hurry. He is a blight on the commission and society.

    May 16, 2014 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  24. Sven

    There are two categories of Republicans.
    Racists like Copeland,
    and people who deny the existence of the other category.

    May 16, 2014 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  25. T.W.A

    Its my understanding that the police commissioner and Donald Sterling are Democrates!

    May 16, 2014 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
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