Hurricane Katrina: One Year Later, Part 2: The Controversy Continues

The Controversy Continues

Both Mayor Ray Nagin and Eddie Compass have weighed in on the controversy surrounding the former police chief's departure from the force. Mayor Nagin says Eddie resigned and Eddie insists he was fired. Now, Dr. Phil puts in a phone call to the mayor, whom he reaches by cell phone at an Indianapolis airport, to clear up the discepancies. "What is the truth? Was he fired, or was he not fired?" he asks.

 

"Here's the truth. Eddie was showing some signs that he was having a very difficult time, toward the end, of dealing with the tragedy, and he was breaking down on a fairly regular basis in public. I had ordered him to stand down and to take it easy for a minute," Mayor Nagin explains. "At first, he resisted pretty strong. He said, ‘Look, I'm going to go ahead and retire.' If he would have said to me at that meeting, ‘Look. I got it. I agree with you, and I'm going to abide by your orders,' Eddie would still be police chief." 

"He said that you were concerned about image, and that you criticized him for showing emotion, including on my show," Dr. Phil notes. "When I asked you about it and we talked before, I said, ‘Was he fired?' You said, ‘No, he wasn't fired.' And I said, 'If he hadn't wanted to quit, would he still be here?' You said, ‘Yes, he would have.'"

"And I still stand by that. But he had to agree to step down because were starting to get lawsuits."

"What kind of comments were bringing lawsuits?"

"Well, he made a comment about something with guns and the NRA fired us, and it was just a comment that kind of got us in trouble," Mayor Nagin replies. "He told me, ‘Look man, I'm going to resign. I want this to be private, and I'm ready to move on.' And I have honored that to this day. But if he's starting to talk about this and starting to suggest that something else happened besides what really went down, then I have to bring out the truth."

Dr. Phil reads a few comments that Eddie made regarding his departure from the police force. "‘He was upset that I had been on your show. He told me not to go on television no more without his permission.' He goes on to say that it cost him over $300,000 dollars to be forced out. He says you forced him to give a 30- or 60-day exit plan " "

Mayor Nagin interrupts. "Go look at the tape, Doc. Eddie Compass resigned. All his statements, everything he wrote, Eddie Compass resigned. That's a fact," he stresses.


Dr. Phil reads from an e-mail that Eddie says he received from the mayor. "'The not-so-subtle deceit is very disappointing and hurtful. You need to start thinking about your future. Maybe this is a good transition time while you're still on top. Write a book. Go on a speaking circuit. Run for criminal sheriff. I would like for us to have a one-on-one this week, and come up with a 30- to 60 day exit plan for you.' That doesn't sound like he quit. It sounds like he was forced out," Dr. Phil observes. "Was he forced to resign?"

"He was not. Nothing in that letter says he was forced to resign," Mayor Nagin makes clear. "I'm telling you what happened from my perspective. Eddie, a year later, is coming up with a different story. I don't know how to deal with that other than to tell you what happened."

"If somebody came away with the impression that you were threatened by the fact that he was getting more good press than you were, would that be right or wrong?" Dr. Phil inquires 

Mayor Nagin laughs. "No, I don't see that, sir," he says. 

"I want to give you a chance to say that because that's what some people are saying."

"Absolutely not. Are you suggesting that this is some type of jealousy thing?"

"Yes," Dr. Phil says.

"Absolutely not. I talked to an officer who was so stressed out about what was going on, that the next morning, he committed suicide. I was not going to let that happen to another officer," Mayor Nagin insists.

"Were you afraid that Eddie Compass might become suicidal when you saw the stress?"  

"No, I was not. But I was concerned about some erratic behaviors that I was seeing from him," the mayor replies. 

When Dr. Phil asks if Eddie did a good job during Hurricane Katrina, Mayor Nagin replies, "For the most part, overall, he did a good job. I think he got to a point toward the end where he was reporting some things that weren't happening. There was also some other behaviors that were impacting his ability to lead his troops."

"If he wanted his job back, would he have a place to come to work for the police department?"

The mayor ponders his question. "Not today. I don't have that kind of spot available," he answers. "The opportunity for him to stay on was when we had our discussion, and if he would have agreed to stand down for a minute and get the kind of help that I thought he needed, and abide by my orders, he could have stayed on. I just wish him the best. I hope he gets through this [Hurricane Katrina] anniversary OK." 

Dr. Phil wants to clear up some final issues. "Your position is that you did write this e-mail. You did say, 'Give me a 30- or 60-day exit plan because you have been deceitful,' but you don't consider that to be firing?" he asks. 

"No, because when we sat down, we talked about all that. I was looking for him to basically say, 'Mr. Mayor, I'm willing to abide by what you think I should do, and I'm going to stay and lead this department.' But he did not do that. He said, ‘Mr. Mayor, I thought about it. I have a young daughter. I'm going to go out and do what I think is best for my family, and that was it," Mayor Nagin explains. "We hugged, and he walked away and the rest is history."

Next, Dr. Phil phones Eddie. After exchanging greetings, Dr. Phil thanks him for sending the contents of an e-mail from the mayor.


"I have talked to the mayor actually, and he admitted writing the e-mail. He's not denying that, but he is swearing and standing by his position that you were not forced out," he says.

"Well, all I can say is, Dr. Phil, I didn't go to the mayor and ask to retire," Eddie replies.

"I've read the e-mail, and it says the 'not-so-subtle deceit' that he's accusing you of is very disappointing and hurtful, but he says that this was totally amicable, and that you guys just hugged and just had a good exchange, and that you just felt like it was time to move on, and he said you resigned. And I said, 'It sounds to me like it was a forced resignation. Was it a forced resignation, or was this Eddie Compass's wish?' And he said, 'It was not a forced resignation.'"

Eddie says, "You read the e-mail, so everybody can make their own judgment, come to their own conclusion."

"So, is he just flat lying about what happened that day?" asks Dr. Phil.


"I'm not going to say that, Dr. Phil," Eddie replies. "I'm never going to call the man a liar because there are ways people interpret things. Maybe he didn't think that he was telling me to retire, but you tell me to come up with a 30- to 60-day exit plan, and you make suggestions for other career paths, and you tell me that 'you've done as much for the police department as you can do, and I strongly recommend that you retire.' What is he telling me?"

"You felt like you had no option, that you were being forced out," says Dr. Phil.

"Exactly," says Eddie, "and if I had gotten into a conflict with the mayor at that time, as tenuous as the situation was with the city, it wouldn't have been fair."

 

"Eddie, what is the erratic behavior that he references?" asks Dr. Phil.

 

"When I cried on your show, that I embarrassed the city. I had never dealt with the death of that police officer. When we talked about it, I did get emotional, and I'm sorry."

"Why are you sorry?" asks Dr. Phil.

"Well, I guess if this was an embarrassment to my city, I didn't intend to do that. If he looked at it in that way, I apologize."

Dr. Phil asks Eddie for his real theory. "Your position is he forced you out. Why do you think he wanted you gone?"


"I've heard different things from different people, and I don't want to speculate on that," he says. "And as the mayor, it's his prerogative to have the people around him whom he wants, and I respect that."

"Some people have speculated that the mayor was threatened by your popularity, that you never saw a microphone you didn't like, never saw a camera you didn't like, that you were out there, you were the face of New Orleans in this crisis, which was overshadowing the mayor and that he became threatened by that. What do you say to that?"

"Well, I heard that too," he says. "And the thing about it [is], for the record, I did not ask to be the spokesman. It just took a life of its own from that, Dr. Phil. There were hundreds of people out there asking me questions constantly. I couldn't get away from them. I did what I was told to do. I tried to do my job to the best of my ability. I tried to keep the people informed. Some of the things that I reported I didn't get verified before I reported and I regret that. I can't do anything about that. If I had to do it all over again, I would probably have done two press conferences, one in the morning and one at night."

"You've known Ray Nagin since the first grade," asks Dr. Phil. "What's going to happen when you two see each other on the street?"

"Nothing," says Eddie. "I'm going to respect his position and speak to him. I have no grudge against the mayor. I have no animosity against the mayor."

"I was very honored when you shared with me your superintendent badge,
and I have it very proudly displayed under glass in a shadowbox in my office, and I want to tell you that I'm keeping this for your daughter," says Dr. Phil.

"Well, I appreciate that," Eddie replies. He has an important message for the citizens of New Orleans. "I want the people of New Orleans to know that Eddie Compass loves them. I did not quit on the people of New Orleans. I stayed until the end. I stayed with my police officers and I loved my job, and I still love my city, and I'm going to do everything I can to help rebuild my city."

Before hanging up, Dr. Phil has a reminder for Eddie. "All ri
ght, now," he joshes, "you promised me a home-cooked mea l..."

"Oh yes, my wife is waiting," Eddie says jovially. "She's one of the best cooks in the city."

Eddie signs off with a final statement: "It's important that America knows that I left the police department because it was the best thing for the police department. If the mayor and I would have had a public battle over my tenure, it would have destroyed the police department, and I would never do that under any circumstances."