Durham County

Attorney accuses longtime Durham Committee member and poll worker of harassment

Attorney Nana Asante claims Jan Stewart Cromartie threatened her while both of of them were at the Durham County Board of Elections working to support local candidates.
Attorney Nana Asante claims Jan Stewart Cromartie threatened her while both of of them were at the Durham County Board of Elections working to support local candidates.

A Wake County assistant district attorney on Thursday was granted a protective order in Durham County District Court against a former longtime member of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.

Wake ADA Nana Asante-Smith claimed Jan Stewart Cromartie threatened her while the two of them were at the Durham County Board of Elections working to support local candidates. The incidents in question primarily occurred while Asante-Smith worked as a political action coordinator for the People’s Alliance Political Action Committee (PAC) and while Cromartie worked with the Durham Committee.

Chief District Court Judge James T. Hill granted Asante-Smith a one-year protective order mandating Cromartie from coming within 100 feet of her and ordering him to not make direct or indirect contact with her via social media.

Cromartie, a military veteran who said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and bipolar disorder, acknowledged that if he doesn’t take his medications he can get angry, but he said Asante-Smith harassed him first.

Asante-Smith said the Durham Committee should have intervened.

In court, Asante-Smith testified she had contacted Durham Committee Chairman Omar Beasley about the way Cromartie’s behavior was making her feel “and documenting that it wasn’t enough – whatever their assertions were about everybody knowing he (Cromartie) was crazy – to tell me that anymore,” she said.

Crying on the witness stand, Asante-Smith said she told the Durham Committee “lip service” was no longer enough, because, she was concerned and scared.

“I did that, the first time, when he was working directly within the capacity as a poll worker for the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People,” she said. “I told them what he was doing. I told them again the way it was making me feel. And I told them again why it was problematic, and yet again for some reason, I thought something would be done about it.”

The Durham Committee said it is a volunteer organization, that Cromartie is not an employee and that the organization is not responsible for his actions.

“This is just a political thing,” Cromartie said in court. “Because I work for a candidate that she doesn’t like. … She goes on attack for me. Because I’m probably one of the best people my organization has working at the polls and she just don’t want me at the polls, working.”

Under oath, Cromartie suggested that his and Asante-Smith’s legal dispute boiled down to the competing political interests between the People’s Alliance and the Durham Committee, “Of course, they would say that I said something. Because, she supports them. She works for them.”

In filing for the protective order on Oct. 19, Asante-Smith described vulgar tirades delivered by Cromartie, the latest tirade on Oct. 7.

She claimed her troubles with Cromartie began over a year ago on Nov. 5, 2016, and included a letter she’d emailed to Beasley and former Durham Committee chairman Ralph Hunt on the night of Nov. 5, 2016.

In the letter, Asante-Smith wrote that she arrived at South Regional Library as a poll worker at 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 5, 2016 and had struck up a jovial conversation with a young man when Cromartie joined them.

When the young man walked away, “Mr. Cromartie seemed to ‘snap,’” Asante-Smith wrote. She added Cromartie called her an “(expletive) nobody” and called her uneducated.

“Because of the volume of his comments, frankly, I do not remember all of the threatening and abrasive statements he made to me,” she wrote. “I told him ‘Shhh’ several times.”

Asante-Smith recalled that around 4 p.m., she had been socializing with friends when Cromartie called someone in the group and vented “how ‘the (expletive) named Nana’ had been ‘talking (expletive)’ about him at the library,” she wrote.

Asante-Smith said she took notes detailing the call in which Cromartie is claimed to have said, “‘I’m the type of mother(expletive) I’ll set a mother(expletive) on fire. I will. I will set her on fire. I’m gonna look her up and I’m gonna find her.’”

Beasley said he discussed the letter with Cromartie, who denied the claims.

“It was his word against her word,” Beasley said. “But, we dealt with it and I told her, ‘If he did this, if you have proof, please take charges out.’”

Ward 1 City Council candidate DeDreanna Freeman testified she witnessed Cromartie’s behavior towards Asante-Smith and – while looking directly at Cromartie from her seat on the witness stand – said, “If a man approached me the way you did, I would have asked my husband to whup his behind.”

This year

Asante-Smith alleged that Cromartie has harassed her multiple times since last November, claiming her fear intensified causing crying spells, sleeplessness and making her avoid taking the bus to work for fear she might run into Cromartie.

Asante-Smith wrote Cromartie harassed her so conspicuously this year at the Board of Elections, he was asked to leave the polling station on Oct. 7.

Efforts to reach Derek Lamar Bowens, director of the Durham County Board of Elections, were not successful.

Asante-Smith hired attorney Sherry Honeycutt Everett, and Everett sent an Oct. 10 letter to the Durham Committee writing that her client “will consider legal action against [Cromartie] should anything of this nature occur again.”

She received a temporary protective order Oct. 19.

The Durham Committee

Cromartie’s associates describe him as a “fixture” on the Durham political scene.

In 2012, Cromartie was selected to serve as the Durham Committee’s Health Committee vice-chairman.

For nearly two years Cromartie held the title of chairman of the Health Committee. He resigned from the Durham Committee on Oct. 9.

“We got wind of that incident [Oct. 7] and I talked to him, and our Legal Redress chair Clayton Jones … sat down and talked to him and he resigned after that conversation,” Beasley said.

Cromartie has volunteered for the Durham Committee PAC “throughout the years” handing out election literature at the polls, Beasley said.

The PAC is funded by donations from committee members and political campaigns the Durham Committee has endorsed, Beasley explained. Compensation for Durham Committee PAC poll workers come from PAC funds.

The Durham Committee pays poll workers a “flat rate,” said Durham Committee Political Committee chair Keith Bishop.

Cromartie was last compensated for his poll work Oct. 3, Beasley said, meaning at the time of the Oct. 7 incident he was working as a volunteer for individual political campaigns and not directly affiliated with the Durham Committee.

Cromartie is “a disabled military veteran with PTSD,” who is affable when medicated and erratic when not, Beasley said.

“Jan will call me cussing me out one day and the next day call me and ask me to go to lunch,” Beasley said. “And that is who Jan Cromartie is.”

Beasley said his organization votes members into leadership roles without a formal vetting process and does not do criminal history checks on its members.

Who is Jan Cromartie?

Cromartie is a U.S. Navy veteran and says he had been diagnosed with PTSD and bipolar disorder.

He was charged with misdemeanor communicating threats on Oct. 10, 2007 and convicted on Oct. 25, 2007.

He also was charged with misdemeanor stalking on Sept. 28, 2011 and convicted on Jan. 25, 2012. He was placed on probation.

Trina Graves received a no-contact order prohibiting Cromartie from contacting her on May 13, 2012.

A Durham attorney, Bernell Daniel-Weeks, received a protective order against Cromartie on Dec. 6, 2012.

Another woman, Rochelle Jones Williams, received a protective order against Cromartie on Sept. 23, 2016.

Cromartie then filed for an order protecting himself against Williams and received it Sept. 28, 2016.

Of his resignation, Cromartie said he felt it was best to distance himself from the Durham Committee to protect it.

“Sometimes I forget to take the pills,” he said. “Some of the medicine makes it hard to sleep. They mess with me sometimes, and sometimes, I forget.”

“If I don’t take my pills I can get mad, yeah,” he said.

He is proud of his abilities as a poll worker and proud he has been able to help the Durham Committee.

Cromartie said he is embarrassed by his symptoms and outward expression of mental illness and asserts Asante-Smith harassed him first.

“A lot, I’ve been working the polls, helping voters, and she’s come up to me and said ‘Sshh.’” Cromartie said. “Yeah, saying, ‘Sshh.’ Sometimes I get anxious. I was anxious. I don’t like always being told ‘Sshh.’ It’s embarrassing.”

Of his comments about Asante-Smith on Nov. 5, 2016, Cromartie said, “I remember making comments, but not those comments. Yes. I denied making them to Omar [Beasley].”

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks