May 16th, 2014
08:42 AM ET
4 months 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. Sniffit

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

    Donald Sterling is a REGISTERED REPUBLICAN. This is not debatable and has been proven with the documents. You clearly got your "understanding" from Rush Limbaugh, Daily Caller and Faux News.

    May 16, 2014 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  2. Sniffit

    "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."

    It's math, son. Pointing out that if you're looking for X, you are most likely to find in place Y, is not characterizing "all people" located in Y. In this case X = ignorant redneck hillbilly, and Y = NH/SC.

    May 16, 2014 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  3. Silence DoGood

    @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.
    -------------
    He is exercising his right to free speech. But there is no law that says he is immune to consequences!
    All the angry people telling him what they think of him are also exercising free speech.
    And "the board of commissioners can move to recall his election", exercising their freedoms as well.

    I hate to break it to you but freedoms and rights are for all people – not just racists and conservatives.
    I say this because we are going through a time now where some people think they have more rights than others.

    May 16, 2014 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  4. Mark

    Pete, I certainly defend amyone's 1st Ammendment rights. But there is some apeech that is so hate filled that it has no place in our society, regardless of of the right to say it, especially from elected officials that are supposed to set an example for us.. What he said sounded incindiary and few other words carry the 400 year+ history of it's meanimg. I'm old enough to remember Bull Conner, Commissioner of Public Safety for the city of Birmingham, Alabama use it to bait blacks in to the freedom riots of the 1960's. Copeland seems stuck in that period.

    May 16, 2014 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  5. pitt04

    "When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance you don't really have to do anything. Let them talk."-Barack Obama

    May 16, 2014 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  6. Robert

    "Evolution is a painfully slow process." Especially when your group is in the losing position.

    May 16, 2014 11:22 am at 11:22 am |
  7. Sniffit

    ""What law did he break?""

    None, and he's not being charged with having done so. You win today's gold star for irrelevance....and it's not even noon yet.

    May 16, 2014 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  8. Boomer in Mo

    Old white guys are scared and acting out. They are scared of brown people. They are scared of young people. And they are scared of women of all colors. They know they are dying out and their supremacy over everyone else is slipping away fast.

    May 16, 2014 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  9. Gary

    Recipe for Change in America
    Vote in all 3 of the next major elections (mid-term, general, mid-term)
    Research and know all incumbents on the ballot (people in office currently running again)
    Vote for anyone else except incumbents (throwing a dart would be better than incumbents)
    After this close to all 535 will be removed from congress

    May 16, 2014 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  10. Kenneth Newman

    New England, especially Maine and New Hampshire, have plenty of backwoods white trash who would sound 24/7 just like the KKK. This comment isn't surprising at all. What would you expect when a good 40% of all those from Maine and New Hampshire can barely can read or write. New Hampshire doesn't require auto insurance. NO taxes mean NO schooling!!!

    May 16, 2014 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  11. Boomer in Mo

    TWA– Rush Limbaugh "reported" that Sterling was a Democrat and then had to actually admit he was wrong the next day because Sterling is registered to vote as a Republican. Just because Limbaugh spouts it does not make it true.

    May 16, 2014 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  12. Rudy NYC

    Bill from GA

    Most of us, when we go to the polls, no very little about half or more of the candidates. Likely, when this person was elected, his views were not well known to all.
    --------------------------------
    Seriously? I doubt that this is the first time that he's ran for the office. In a town of 6300 people, one where he was probably born and raised in, I find it highly unlikely that he was not well known. Don't you think that if he ran unopposed, then not only is he well known to the local party leaders, but that he is also a long term incumbent?

    May 16, 2014 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  13. A. Goodwin

    So sad this man is making a mockery of the state I live in. There is NO room for racists here in NH. Lets hope that the Board of Commissioners recalls his election....

    May 16, 2014 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  14. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    (Shaking my head)
    Wow....

    May 16, 2014 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  15. Ingramjr

    If you are a racist then have the common sense to acknowledge it and try to control it. If everyone exercised their right to free speech without personal censorship then our speech would turn into hate filled rants about race, sex, wealth, religion, politics, etc. instead of speech. We should all be able to recognize that all of us want to be treated as if we have value.

    May 16, 2014 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  16. Highly_Amused

    Pete –
    Yes you "technically" have the so-called "right" to say ANY OFFENSIVE thing that you desire,
    ...BUT, that DOES NOT absolve you from the consequences of your actions!
    Just because YOU have "freedom of speech" does not prevent others from being duly outraged and from taking you to task for your dispicable bigotry!
    YOU are still 100% responsible for your own words!
    So, you would be wise to exercise your "freedom of speech" at your OWN RISK! DUH!

    May 16, 2014 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  17. Esaias

    "When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance you don't really have to do anything. Let them talk."-Barack Obama

    And guess what, Obama talks a lot.

    May 16, 2014 11:37 am at 11:37 am |
  18. Gunderson

    Whazzat?
    Somebody describe What-His-Name with bad word. Can't do that. Now if What-His-Name knew which end up all would be better. But, when in Boston Use Ya Blinkeh!

    May 16, 2014 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  19. J. Olver

    Did the police commissioner apply his hateful label because President Obama was the child of a single mom raised partly by his grandparents who went on to study law, become a professor, a state politician, a US Senator and finally a two term President of the United States of America or does the commissioner apply the label because Mr. Obama has a successful wife who works hard for very good causes and two very nice, well behaved children? Or does the commissioner apply the hateful label to any person with skin darker than his own?

    May 16, 2014 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  20. Lynda/Minnesota

    Dominican mama 4 Obama
    (Shaking my head)
    Wow....
    ------------

    Don't shake too hard. Dude isn't worth the energy it takes ....

    May 16, 2014 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  21. Liberal...NOT

    I've said it all along...the northeast is much more racist and segregated than the south. I've lived in both regions. It's not even close actually. I also think Obama is a bozo. He's the best thing to happen to the conservative movement since Jimmy Carter. But I respect him as a human being. In fact, he seems like a nice fellow. Just in way over his capabilities in terms of leadership.

    May 16, 2014 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  22. Charles Hawkins

    Why is that republicans only tend to defend the free speech of racists and anti government protesters. However if a late night comedian tells a joke about Sarah Palin and or her family they are made to apologize.

    May 16, 2014 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  23. Martha in CF

    How sad in our society that a person can't overlook the color of ones skin. The elderly (males in particular) can't view a person as someone who has the same makings as a human being, only the pigment in his skin is different. It is sad!!!! I guess I feel sorry Copeland and his ignorance.

    May 16, 2014 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  24. LBSquirrel

    Further evidence of systemic racism in morally-bankrupt America.

    The Devil hasn't changed – back in the Slave days they used to break a slave's leg and then complain about his limp.

    Today, racist juries put innocent Blacks in jail and then say they're all criminals.

    May 16, 2014 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  25. rs

    Any one who works for the government would be fired for such a shameless display of disrespect and racism- and know what? That's as it should be. If you're stupid enough to say something like this, you probably aren't bright enough to be a police commissioner.

    May 16, 2014 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
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