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Ayotte, Shaheen want police commissioner who called Obama the n-word to resign

Jim Cole/AP - Wolfeboro Police Commissioner Robert Copeland listen in Wolfeboro, N.H. as town residents ask for his resignation at a May 15 public meeting.
Jim Cole/AP - Wolfeboro Police Commissioner Robert Copeland listen in Wolfeboro, N.H. as town residents ask for his resignation at a May 15 public meeting.

WOLFEBORO, N.H. --Several of New Hampshire's most prominent politicians -- including Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R) and Jeanne Shaheen (D) and Gov. Maggie Hassan -- have echoed the local calls for the ouster of Robert Copeland, the 82-year-old police commissioner of Wolfeboro who was overheard publicly referring to President Obama with the n-word.

"It is completely inappropriate for anyone to make those types of racist comments," said Shaheen, in a statement provided to the Washington Post. "I support town officials who have called for Mr. Copeland's resignation and trust that the people of Wolfeboro will do the right thing."

Those sentiments were echoed by Ayotte, one of the Senate's top ranking Republicans.

"Senator Ayotte believes he should apologize and resign for this deeply offensive remark," Jeff Grappone, Ayotte's spokesman, said in an e-mail on Monday.

Also calling for Copeland's resignation on Monday was Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D), whose district includes Wolfeboro.

“Wolfeboro is one of the loveliest and friendliest towns in America, and Mr. Copeland's hateful comments are his and his alone," Shea-Porter said in a statement provided to the Washington Post. "It's shocking that Mr. Copeland seems incapable of understanding how cruel and prejudiced his thoughts and words are, but he should at least listen to the residents of Wolfeboro, who reject his ugly comments and want him to apologize and resign immediately.”

Ayotte, Shaheen and Shea-Porter join a growing chorus of elected officials in New Hampshire who have called for Copeland to resign.

Scott Brown, the leading Republican opponent running to try to unseat Shaheen said over the weekend that Copeland should resign.

“Commissioner Copeland’s reprehensible comments dishonor law enforcement officials across our state who work hard to ensure that all citizens are treated fairly, and the remarks do not represent the values of New Hampshire residents," said William Hinkle, a spokesman for New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan. "Governor Hassan believes that he should listen to the people of Wolfeboro and New Hampshire and apologize and step down in order to restore confidence in the Commission.”

Several local lawmakers and community leaders have also called for Copeland's resignation.

"I’ve spoken with Commissioner Copeland, I’ve spoken with his wife and I’ve told them, both of them, that the remarks were offensive, there is no place for an elected official or anyone else describing the president of the United States or anybody using that term," said Jeb Bradley, a former congressman and current state senator from Wolfeboro. "I explained that to them, and I also said: you need to resign."

The firestorm erupted this month when Jane O’Toole, who moved to Wolfeboro about four months ago, overheard Copeland loudly describing Obama using the slur while sitting in a town restaurant. Upon discovering that he was an elected official, O’Toole formally complained to the town manager and other members of the police commission.

“I believe I did use the ‘N’ word in reference to the current occupant of the Whitehouse,” Copeland said in a subsequent e-mail to his fellow police commissioners, which he forwarded to O’Toole. “For this, I do not apologize — he meets and exceeds my criteria for such.”

Copeland has remained defiant, sitting with crossed arms Thursday as more than 100 residents showed up for a public meeting to discuss the incident. Many angrily called for his resignation.

But the commissioner has said he will not resign and has declined interview requests from the news media, not returning calls for comment. He lashed out at a local television reporter who attempted to interview him Thursday, calling him a “skunk.”

No one answered the door at Copeland’s home when a Washington Post reporter knocked Sunday afternoon. Copeland has not returned several calls for comment.

The three-member police commission, an elected body charged with hiring the town’s police force, plans to meet sometime this week, but it is unclear whether Copeland will be asked to step down.

Several town officials noted that, because the police commission is independently elected, the town Board of Selectmen and town manager have no power to remove Copeland from office.

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who owns a vacation home in Wolfeboro, has also called for Copeland to resign.

“The vile epithet used and confirmed by the commissioner has no place in our community,” Romney said in a statement to the Boston Herald last week. “He should apologize and resign.”

Related: A feeling of disgust in N.H. town after official’s use of racial slur against Obama

Wesley Lowery is a national reporter covering law enforcement and justice for the Washington Post. He previously covered Congress and national politics.



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