May 16th, 2014
08:42 AM ET
7 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.

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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. Thomas

    Robert Copeland proves the GOP is back in the 40s when it comes to race , acceptance and tolerance .

    The guy is 82 , he's still at war with Japan.

    May 16, 2014 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  2. rs


    Two words: First Amendment
    You'll find there are limits to the First Amendment- especially around hate speech and incitement. The limits for this gentleman (just as it would be for me) is he can get fired.

    May 16, 2014 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  3. Crabby Appleton

    Can't fault the guy for being 100% correct !

    May 16, 2014 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  4. mzfitz1215

    he can say whatever he wants and he doesn't have to apologize, but he has to be ready to take the consequences whatever they may be.

    May 16, 2014 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
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