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Police commissioner resigns in wake of Obama slur

Created: 05/19/2014 12:26 PM
By: HOLLY RAMER

WOLFEBORO, N.H. (AP) — A town police commissioner has resigned after he admitted using a racial slur to describe President Barack Obama, a town official said Monday.

Board of Selectmen Chair Linda Murray said Robert Copeland, 82, resigned Sunday night from the post to which he was re-elected in March, putting to rest a controversy that drew national attention and sparked impassioned debate in this resort town of 6,300 on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee.

"The town is pleased," Murray said Monday. "This gives us the opportunity to move on. We are a very accepting community that really takes care of each other."

Copeland has not returned several calls seeking comment.

At a meeting last week, Copeland defiantly sat with his arms folded as more than 100 residents pushed for his ouster and tore into his comments, saying he didn't speak the town or its people.

Copeland admitted using the slur, preceded by an obscenity, while he was at a restaurant in March. A resident, Jane O'Toole, overheard him and complained to town officials when she learned that Copeland was a police commissioner.

"I believe I did use the 'N' word in reference to the current occupant of the Whitehouse," Copeland said in the April email sent to the two other commissioners and forwarded to O'Toole. "For this, I do not apologize — he meets and exceeds my criteria for such."

A handful of people at the meeting spoke on behalf of Copeland, saying he had a right to free speech. But the louder message came from those who wanted him out.

"Comments like these, especially coming from a public official, are not only inexcusable but also terribly, unfortunately, reflects poorly on our town," O'Toole said at the meeting.

Mitt Romney, the former GOP presidential nominee and the former Massachusetts governor, owns a home in the town and called for Copeland's resignation, saying "the vile epithet used and confirmed by the commissioner has no place in our community."

About 20 black people live year-round in Wolfeboro, in the scenic Lakes Region of New Hampshire, a state that's 94 percent white and 1 percent black. None of the town police department's 12 full-time officers is black or a member of another minority.

Police Chief Stuart Chase said Copeland's slur was "not indicative of the posture of this department. We treat everyone with dignity and respect."

Town officials also said they were appalled by Copeland's comments but said they were powerless to remove an elected official.

(Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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