I spoke last night with Ashley Cannon, a former assistant district attorney in Mike Nifong’s office.
She told me the following:
On Friday, her last day working for Nifong, Cannon spoke with the Administrative Office of the Courts, and filed an oral complaint alleging sexual harassment by Assistant District Attorney C. Destine Couch and a complaint against District Attorney Nifong for taking no action on the matter.
Couch received some attention earlier in the case, after people noticed his racy myspace.com website (which was then taken down). According to Cannon, Couch engaged in a pattern of inappropriate behavior that prompted her to file an internal complaint with David Saacks, the chief assistant district attorney. Saacks, she said, then brought the complaint to Nifong.
I spoke this morning with Saacks. He said that he could confirm that he was "involved" with the complaint in the office, but otherwise, as a personnel matter, only Nifong could comment on the issue.
Cannon said that, around four weeks ago, after Nifong showed no signs of acting, she made an appointment to speak to the district attorney. She reported that Nifong told her that they would talk about the matter later; and in the meantime, he would put her on a schedule that didn’t overlap with Couch. When Nifong did neither and she felt that the situation wasn’t going to improve, she decided to leave and file her complaint—against Couch for inappropriate behavior and against Nifong for inaction.
I asked Cannon why she came forward now; she said that she felt compelled to follow the same advice she gave to women who experienced sexual harassment in their jobs.
The N&O reached Ken Williams, human resources officer with AOC, who "said he had not heard about the complaint but would not have been the one to take it. He said if human resources receives a complaint, the office typically will investigate and make suggestions or recommendations to a district attorney, but that his office has no authority over elected officials or their employees."
Couch’s mother, Finesse Couch, is a major player in the Durham Committee for the Affairs of Black People. The PAC recently endorsed Nifong, even though African-American groups traditionally look poorly upons reckless prosecutors. Finesse Couch has also donated $1000 to Nifong’s re-election campaign. Her most recent contribution, $250, came on October 10, or after Cannon had complained about C. Destine Couch’s behavior.
The ironies of Cannon’s experience, of course, are numerous:
- In the last seven months, Nifong has positioned himself as a great defender of women’s rights; yet he appears to have had a blasé attitude toward following up on a sexual harassment complaint in his own office.
- Would Nifong have handled Cannon’s complaint differently if Couch’s mother had not been a significant figure for his re-election effort?
- Nifong felt comfortable moving forward in the lacrosse case without ever speaking with the accuser about her version of events; and yet here, with a member of his own office filing a complaint and talking personally to him, he appears to have done little or nothing about it?
I emailed Couch and Nifong for comment; both have, to date, not replied. The N&O did reach Nifong; he refused to comment.
[Update, 9.11am: I should make it clear that I heard about Cannon's complaint from a mutual acquaintance, and then called to ask her about the details.]