May 19th, 2014
01:54 PM ET
7 years ago

Police commissioner in N.H. town resigns over Obama slur

(CNN) - A small-town police commissioner in New Hampshire, who originally said he wouldn't apologize for calling President Barack Obama the n-word, resigned on Monday.

Joseph Balboni, Police Commission chairman of Wolfeboro, confirmed to CNN that he received a resignation email from Robert Copeland.

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"Dear Commission Chairman Balboni, I resign," wrote Copeland in the email.

Copeland resignation letter 1

Last Thursday, Copeland, 82, sat with his arms crossed at a packed town meeting while a crowd of angry residents in the predominantly white town called for his resignation.

Copeland acknowledged in an email to his fellow police commissioners that he used the racial slur to describe Obama.

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

"It's not like I was eavesdropping. Mr. Copeland was being very loud," O'Toole told CNN affiliate WMUR.

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

"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."

Copeland was 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.

Wolfeboro, located in the scenic Lakes Region in the central part of New Hampshire, has around 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 Mitt Romney spending time with family and campaign aides at his vacation home on Lake Winnipesaukee.

Over the weekend Romney called on Copeland to apologize and resign.

"The vile epithet used and confirmed by the commissioner has no place in our community: He should apologize and resign," Romney said in a statement provided to CNN

CNN's Yon Pomrenze, Stephanie Gallman, Paul Steinhauser and Kevin Bohn contributed to this report

Filed under: Mitt Romney • New Hampshire • President Obama
soundoff (714 Responses)
  1. Ulysses

    No matter how much you may despise a person or his politics, using a derogatory slur reveals the type of person you are much more than the target of your profanity. It indicates you are a piece of gutter-trash without the ability to make a coherent argument. Just because you believe someone is wrong... even destructively wrong... doesn't justify public slurs. If you feel the need you are free to find a place where no one can hear you and yell are the profane remarks you want... out of earshot of more reasonable people, if possible. Clearly this commissioner is an old-timer... and it is probably his time to retire and a resignation is definitely appropriate.

    May 19, 2014 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  2. Better han Ezra

    "Freedom of Speech and thought does not exist in the modern liberal world unless they say it."

    And let's give the "I don't know what the First Amendment means" award to Ezra. Who has somehow confused Freedom of Speech with Freedom From Repercussions. Joseph Balboni will not be facing any criminal charges. There will be no appearance before Congress. But you are responsible for what you say. You can't walk into your boss' office, call them a jerk and claim Freedom of Speech, you can't fire me.

    May 19, 2014 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  3. jjt35

    There's no private conversation in a public restaurant. To think that you could sit in a public place, say anything you want, and it's nobody's business is absurd. You can say whatever you want that's not potentially criminal and not be persecuted by the government. That is free speech. Society on the other hand can listen to what you say and let you know in no uncertain terms that you are repugnant and will not be tolerated in society at large. People can reject you, boycott you, admonish you, and publicize the idiocy you want to hold on to as your "personal" belief.

    May 19, 2014 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  4. MW

    As a police commissioner he serves the public and if public believes that what he did was wrong he should resign regardless of what he believes.

    May 19, 2014 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  5. texasgreenacres

    When you walk around in the public spot light. You must always be careful of what you say and how you say it. People in high positions are under more public scrutiny than the average everyday person.And have to be cautious in their speech and actions both while in public or private.

    May 19, 2014 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  6. "Breath and Release"


    Freedom of Speech and thought does not exist in the modern liberal world unless they say it
    He's not under arrest for what he said so I don't see how his FREEDOM OF SPEACH has been impinged. He needed to go because it is clear now that certian peoples won't be treated fairly by him and that does impinge upon their rights.

    May 19, 2014 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  7. Greg Morris

    Maybe he will become a FAUX news show host now.

    May 19, 2014 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  8. Boo

    Another racist old man.....on his way to extinction...let's hope.

    May 19, 2014 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  9. eckjosh

    "Freedom of Speech and thought does not exist in the modern liberal world unless they say it." – Ezra

    Is he in jail? Did he get a mark on his record? Has anyone pressed charges? No? Well seems pretty free to say what he wants then. Freedom of speech allows you to say what you want without fear of legal repercussion unless deemed harassment in certain situations. If I called someone fat, that's my right, but if the consequence is me getting beat up, well that's the consequence I have to deal with. Responsible use of freedom of speech is the moral of the story here.

    May 19, 2014 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  10. Rick McDaniel

    Might as well quit........the job is being made impossible by the DOJ.

    May 19, 2014 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  11. greenaxe

    This is NOT freedom of speech as much as it is poor judgement. The sooner these old stuffed shirts realize what they say can be damaging, the better off we will all be.....just think before you open yer yap, not everone shares your convoluted views.....foolish old man!

    May 19, 2014 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  12. Carol

    Will people who still use hurtful words about Gay people publicly have to also resign their positions when they express them in private conversations? Will we have posters with peope being told not speak so the enemy will hear you, outside of Post offices, as they did during the Second WW?

    May 19, 2014 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  13. Paul

    The whole idea of Freedom of Speech is that he can't be prosecuted or punished by the government. He can't be thrown in prison for using that slur, even though it was against the President. In other countries, using such a word about the country's president/king/chancellor could result in prison or worse.

    What Freedom of Speech does not mean is that you can say whatever you want without any consequences. As an elected official, he is accountable to the people of Wolfeboro, and they have every right to demand that he resign. Add in the fact that he is involved in the hiring of police officers, and his resignation is more important. Anyone who thinks that there are acceptable "criteria" for the use of that word doesn't belong in a position where he can impact the lives of other people through hiring or guiding law enforcement.

    May 19, 2014 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  14. 4ormorechars

    Finally, and good riddance. Now, back to Bundy.

    May 19, 2014 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  15. chosenbygrace

    but not over the usual police invasions of privacy and false witness, oligarchs are a protected class

    May 19, 2014 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  16. J Perez

    Even his resignation letter showed his ignorance. This may be the first signs of dimensia for the old guy.

    Personally, as a utility worker who retired fairly young (591/2) after 35 years I think anyone working at that age is out of their mind to begin with.
    Get a hobby, volunteer relax and enjoy what short time you have left.

    May 19, 2014 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  17. Jay

    By the looks of most of the comments to this article there continues to be a misunderstanding by most about what Freedom of Speech is. It means what it says, but comes with certain risk. The commissioner had every right to exercise his freedom of speech and say exactly what he felt about Obama. But, as an elected official, he should have understood that his freedom to express himself does not free him from repercussions. Ask Paula Deen, who also had the freedom to express her views. Ask Phil Richardson, who had the right to express his views. If you are an elected official, a public figure, or even a private citizen expressing your views in public you should be prepared for others to do the same. The commissioner said what he wanted to say, no one can argue that he had the absolute right to do so. But the citizens he served did not feel his actions were appropriate, voiced their own opinions, and he was edged out of office. Everyone's rights were exercised, as should it always be.

    May 19, 2014 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  18. Donald

    @Jessie, the comment wasn't made in was made in a restaurant which is, as you may know, a public place...

    May 19, 2014 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  19. LilRdVet2

    Buh bye, now! Good riddance of bad rubbish!

    May 19, 2014 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  20. Sniffit

    "Sorry to see him resign... what happened to free speech?"

    Absolutely nothing. This is no way, shape or form has anything to do with "free speech" because it has nothing whatsoever to do with governmental action being taken to limit "free speech." The guy got run out of his job for being an avowed, unapologetic racist and that's not gov't action. It's THEIR right of free speech and to peaceably assemble in opposition to his racism and it constitutes the consequences for his hate speech.

    May 19, 2014 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  21. kwvining

    I don't see this as a freedom of speech issue, he's the police chief and all persons of any color need to be sure they will be treated equally by the law, this man has shown he is not capable of doing so, so he quit before he got fired, smart move.

    May 19, 2014 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  22. Blacky

    As a black person I totally support his freedom of speech. However under no circumstance I would like to see this guy as a police commissioner or as a police officer or a position of authority or a judge or governor. Can you imagine if this guy find a black person in the wrong place and wrong time what would he do to that poor black person. He want to be bigot let him be but he can’t be commissioner to any low enforcement, if I were to the NH governor I would go back and check all the minority case that goes through his office… it make me sick for people supporting this kind of hatemonger whether private or public. This guy can make your life measureable including they can take your life.

    May 19, 2014 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  23. WOW

    I would like to think these kind of things are things of past. That we have out grown them. But it seems we have not. But on the other hand I believe strongly in freedom of speech for everyone. Even for those that say things that they shouldn't. Especially when we live in a time that the government spies on us in order as they say to keep us all safe it seems we are loosing sight of our freedoms. But until remove from all government or employment forms anything that says anything about race we will keep having this type of problem...or until all the dinosaurs that say such things die off.

    May 19, 2014 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  24. strangways

    what a brave woman O'toole is – taking on a police chief in a small town. hope there are no repercussions for her.

    May 19, 2014 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  25. Flossie

    It's gonna take some getting use to. Americans can no longer have private thoughts or conversations. Wow...

    May 19, 2014 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
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