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. Bill from GA

    Sniffit ..." "As I've said before: NH = the SC of the northeast."

    I have a friend living in the Lake Region of NH. Cuban-born, Harvard-educated, doctor. You might find someone similar in SC, or Georgia. You all show your ignorance when you judge all people based on the actions of one. That is no better than racism.

    May 16, 2014 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  2. eli

    Yes he is free to say what he wants, but then the people that voted him in has the freedom to demand he step down.

    May 16, 2014 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  3. TomFromPineCreek

    I'm completely for free speech but I have feeling that if this occurred eight years earlier and it was him calling George W Bush a "mentally handicapped" slur Republicans would be calling him treasonous and demanding his resignation.

    I was a huge Bush supporter back then but the fact the whole "America Love it or Leave it" or "Stand behind the POTUS" mentalities completely disappeared once Obama took office is alarming. Remember how when the Dixie chicks said they were opposed to the Iraq War and people crucified them for being unpatriotic? How they literally lost corporate sponsors and had their songs taken off the airwaves? It's amazing how quickly people forget.

    May 16, 2014 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  4. Rudy NYC


    I am republican and I don't like what he said and yes I do disagree with most of Obama's policy and it has nothing to do with race (by the way did not care for most of Bush policy's either).
    But funny how one stupid statement by someone and suddenly everybody who doesn't like Obama must be a racist.
    Yes just as many bad things were said about Bush when he was in office by left wingers – I remember hearing white devil the only difference when said about Bush we would say just single idoit and not the entire Dem party.
    "Liberals did it to Bush, too."

    No, they didn't. Sure, lots of bloggers said things, BUT NOT THE ELECTED OFFICIALS. Elected officials didn't come close to level of discourse that we have heard from many Republicans since Barack Obama was sworn in. What's worse is that even the officials who have not made such offensive remarks have nothing to say when one of the colleagues do say ugly things. In other words, their silence condones it.

    May 16, 2014 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  5. patNY

    The apologists for this racist are as or more repressible than what the old geezer said. His so called free speech does not give him a license to say what he did without a response from the majority who do not share his racism!

    May 16, 2014 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  6. Dallas

    Kanageloa evidently suffers from memory deficit when naming the worst U.S. President in modern history – a title that is reserved solely for George W. Bush! Be that as it may, unless and until these small pockets of old bigots die off this kind of foolishness will continue. It's shameful and this old white man should apologize to President Obama but then these clowns don't even understand why they need to apologize. These people are and continue to be a blemish on America.

    May 16, 2014 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  7. TONE

    Democratic Titanic

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

    So according to your post President Obama is to blame for this guys racist rantings about him just blame the President for everything. So when someone on the right make racist comments just turn around and blame the President. It is because of the president i am racist.

    May 16, 2014 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  8. Pete

    I am offended that anyone would be offended for this man exercising his right of free speech. My rights are being violated by these overly sensitive wimps. You see people, that is where this all leads. One person's right of speech is another's offense and one's offense violates someone else's principles. I hate it when anyone is offended and then blames someone else, they need to look in the mirror.

    May 16, 2014 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  9. Shorty

    Eighty two? Don't Americans retire?

    May 16, 2014 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  10. mindstorms1

    Why should anyone be surprised considering racism is as American as apple pie and motherhood.

    May 16, 2014 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  11. Jamison

    I wish I could say I was surpirsed by this type of hatred towards our twice elected PRESIDENT, but I can't. This is a perfect example of what is wrong with America. Republicans on Fox news like to speak of how President Obama has played the race card and is race baiting; but guys like this are ok. I have never heard President Obama mentions anyone race as a negative or use racial slurs..especially in a public forum. I have never seen President Obama disrespect any memeber of Congress, out of their name. Yet he has dealt with more disrespect then any other President. It's not because of his policies or handling of things. It's because he's African American. The saddest part is that Fox News, Tea Partiers and Rebpulicans like to pretend there is not a racial problem in America. Well this is a perfect example of how WRONG they are once again! Regardless of hard they try to bring down the POTUS or attack his character..History will be kind to his legacy and President Obama will be known as a model of how to RISE ABOVE HATE!

    May 16, 2014 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  12. Kip Oliver

    Sorry, I don't buy that old BS about "he's 82 and probably was raised that way". Each and every one of us has the power to control and change what we believe, even if it is different from the way we were raised. Our parents were raised to stay pure until marriage and stay married until death and I'm sure they raised a lot of us that way, yet divorce is at an all-time high. Each and every one of us has the power to reflect on what we were taught and change ourselves into something better than what came before. When a news story on how a thug was arrested, people shake their heads and say, he grew up without a Baby Daddy and in the Inner City but that's no excuse he can improve himself. But when some old white guy uses racial slurs, people say "Oh, he was just raised that way doesn't he have free speech?"
    You have the power to improve. You have the power to become better than what came before you. And yet most of you plod along in the mire that is your life, never changing, never improving, never doing anything. You were born that way, you will live that way, and you will all die that way.

    May 16, 2014 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  13. resident

    I have never seen such disrespect for a sitting President in my life as there has been in the past six years. Even Nixon wasn't subjected to this disrespect. In today's world of instant worldwide communication the leaders of adversary nations read this and conclude that Americans do not support the President and will not support his actions and policies. If we will not support the President why should they respect him either? This crotchety old man needs to get treatment for Tourette's or dementia.

    May 16, 2014 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  14. Tom

    this is why free speech is so important....we don't know who these folks (being polite) are...but stupidity an ignorance always comes out when they open their mouth.. an free speech should get him kick out

    May 16, 2014 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  15. bigbell

    sterling,copelandand morudock,80 plus old white guys.let it go , you will never be POUS.

    May 16, 2014 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  16. thams moore

    I don't understand what the big deal is. Did he use this term while conducting official county business? If not whats the problem?

    May 16, 2014 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  17. joejack65

    "I can only imagine what African Americans must go through living in this guy's town..."

    You mean all 20 of them?

    May 16, 2014 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  18. Uh-Clem

    This kind of disrespect is unacceptable regardless of the ages of the utterer or the object of derision. Yes, there is freedom of speech, but you are not allowed to shout "Fire" in a crowded theater. Some words, such as the one used here, is what is called a "dog whistle" that elicits justifiable rage in some people and needs to be subject to punishment.

    May 16, 2014 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  19. harrisonhits2

    The issue here is that someone who is clearly a racist has hiring and firing power over police positions. And possibly for disciplining officers who commit racist acts while on duty. This is totally unacceptable. If the guy wants to believe in a disproven and ignorant philosophy he has that right, but those who do so usually cannot separate their personal beliefs on such matters from work related things like hiring and firing.

    May 16, 2014 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  20. Kip Oliver

    Pete Wrote: "I am offended that anyone would be offended for this man exercising his right of free speech. My rights are being violated by these overly sensitive wimps. You see people, that is where this all leads. One person's right of speech is another's offense and one's offense violates someone else's principles. I hate it when anyone is offended and then blames someone else, they need to look in the mirror."

    @Pete – Free speech protects you from the government, and going to jail if you speek out against the government. I is not absolute, nor does it protect you if you use it as liable, slander, or even pornogrpahy. See, if free speech was absolute, child porn would be legal. So read up a bit on the amendments you keep thumping, OK? It isn't about what the man said – to me what is more horrifying is that he feels he can do what he wants and has no fear of being fired. He could take a bribe and let a thug go. He could look the other way at a drug bust. He feels that he is protected by his power and position to do and say whatever he wants. You want that in a cop? You like corrupted cops?
    Like everyone else, you missed the bigger picture.

    May 16, 2014 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  21. PaulCat

    David Duke #2
    Sent him back down south
    We do not do this in NH
    We have "CLASS"

    May 16, 2014 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  22. sonny chapman

    Hey PETE-Free Speech doesn't mean you're free to be a Slob.& forget Good Manners !!

    May 16, 2014 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  23. Sniffit

    Free to say what he wants = free to accept the foreseeable consequences if heard.

    May 16, 2014 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  24. tony danono

    finally...someone that does not stoop to pressure to give a fake public apology.. it is how he feels and I believe he should not apologize. I applaud him.

    May 16, 2014 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  25. Terry Snyder

    At least he's not flip-flopping around and trying to backtrack like so many mealy mouthed politicos. He owns it.

    May 16, 2014 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
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