DA Candidate Keva Landrum Touts Baffling Record on Police Misconduct, Criminal Justice Reform

Courtesy of Facebook

As the runoff in the race for New Orleans’s next District Attorney draws near, Retired Judge Keva Landrum is making concessions to the progressive bloc of voters – while dodging many of their demands and ignoring the uglier parts of her record on criminal justice. 

In the wake of a treacherous 12-year District Attorney reign – during which Leon Cannizzaro jailed victims of sex trafficking (including minors), rape survivors, victims of gun violence, and other survivors of violent crime with the use of fake subpoenas – New Orleanians are now looking for a prosecutor who will be smart on crime, rather than tough on crime. 

Judge Landrum’s tenure as prosecutor and then Interim District Attorney suggests an historical camaraderie with unethical prosecutors – the same type of prosecutorial back scratching the city is now trying to distance itself from. At the same time, Judge Landrum charged hundreds of minor marijuana offenders with felonies as Interim DA. 

Between her ties to Cannizzaro, her questionable practices as past DA, and her relentless prosecution of small-time criminals, the line between what was once acceptable and what is now acceptable as District Attorney is blurred with Judge Landrum. Despite her recent turn to the left, the distinction between her and the legacies of Leon Cannizzaro and Harry Connick is not so clear.

Perhaps most similar of all acts to Leon Cannizzaro: Judge Landrum’s campaign advertisements suggest that she is willing to say anything – to stretch any truth – to hold power in New Orleans.

The purpose of this piece is to outline, in detail, the troubling legacy of Candidate Keva Landrum, which contradicts her campaign image as a criminal justice reformer and crusader against police misconduct.


On Tuesday, November 24, Judge Landrum’s campaign posted a photo on Instagram captioned “A History of Holding Police Accountable.”

The text accompanying the photo boasts her work as a prosecutor against George Lee, a former NOPD officer accused of multiple counts of sexual assault.

“Here’s something a lot of people don’t know: when I worked as a prosecutor, I prosecuted a police officer who was accused of sexual assault.” She then goes on to cite the case of Officer George Lee. 

A screenshot from Keva Landrum’s Instagram touting her record against police brutality. In the caption to the image, Judge Landrum only mentions the case of Officer George Lee. Courtesy of Instagram.

What she does not explain, however, is that the case was tainted by contempt of court and false evidence – so much so that her co-counsel, lead prosecutor Lionel “Lon” Burns, was sentenced to six months in jail. 

In the a later decision relating to the matter, the Louisiana Supreme Court writes

“After the third trial had recessed for the day on October 18, 2000, lead prosecutor Burns and prosecutor Keva Landrum were organizing the evidence in the courtroom in preparation for the next day’s proceedings. … Burns allegedly discovered paper napkins in the back pockets of the pants.” In Re: Lionel “Lon” Burns, No. 2001-KK-1080 (Nov. 28, 2001). 

Subsequently, the trial court granted the defense’s motion to suppress the evidence of the paper napkins – which the State alleged Lee had used to wipe evidence clean – and found Mr. Burns in contempt, sentencing him to six months in jail. 

The Louisiana Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ordered Mr. Burns be released and remanded the matter to the trial court, where Judge Arthur Hunter again found Mr. Burns in contempt and reinstated his six month sentence.

“The evidence was quite clear that [Burns] planted napkins in the uniform pants of George Lee to secure a conviction. The act was far and above the duty to disclose material evidence. It was simply outrageous and reprehensible.” In Re: Burns, id. 

Then-prosecutor Landrum, who was in the room with the evidence at the time, was questioned on the matter, who testified that “maybe Lon [Burns]” laughed about the napkins in the courtroom. But she did not pay attention to whether this was connected to the napkins alleged in the prosecution. 

To be clear, Judge Landrum was never found in contempt or suggested to have been involved in the evidence tampering. 

But, as a result of her co-counselor, the prosecution of a serial sexual offender in the New Orleans Police Department was placed in jeopardy. 

It is puzzling, then, why Judge Landrum boasted about the case on her social media.  

Judge Landrum’s poor record on police misconduct does not end there. As Interim DA, she declined to prosecute a number of white NOPD officers who beat up Black city transit employees at the Beechcorner Bar & Grill on Canal Street. 

As this publication has previously discussed, the attack was described as racially motivated. NOPD planted a gun on one of the victims, coerced a bar patron into giving a fake statement, and used racial slurs against the victim. The victims were trying to flee the bar while this occurred. 

Despite a federal grand jury and an internal investigation that recommended charges against five police officers, Keva Landrum declined to prosecute the police, one of whom told a victim, “You niggers picked the wrong bar,” before beating him and his coworkers up.

The motivation behind deciding to not press charges is also baffling. But we do know that several well-connected officers were involved in the fight. 

Officer Travis Ward was one of the accused officers present. His father-in-law was then-2nd District Police Chief and future Superintendent of Police Ronal Serpas. 

District Attorney-elect Leon Cannizzaro’s future son-in-law, Officer Stephen Rodrigue, was present and was accused of kicking a Black RTA worker in the face.

Perhaps most damning of all, also present at the scene was Cannizzaro’s daughter, Laura, who was in a relationship with Officer Rodrigue at the time. 

While we can never tell Landrum’s internal motivation at the time, the circumstances suggest a coziness to those in power influencing her decision to not hold people in power accountable.


While lenient on police brutality, District Attorney Landrum threw the book at minor drug offenders.

On Monday, November 23, Judge Landrum posted an endorsement on Instagram from Louisiana State Representative Matthew Willard. “Representative Matthew Willard is on #TeamKeva because [s]he will not prosecute possession of marijuana.” 

While scant on many details, Judge Landrum’s campaign page is replete with promises to “reduce reliance on jail,” and to seek rehabilitation before incarceration.

Her history as prosecutor suggests otherwise. 

In 2008, New Orleans had the highest murder rate of any major American city. But District Attorney Landrum-Johnson was focused elsewhere.

In July of 2008, Facing South, an online magazine dedicated to “exposing abuses of power” and working for change in the South, reported that hundreds of minor marijuana cases were flooding the felony dockets in New Orleans

Based on reporting by New Orleans City Business, Facing South wrote that the Interim District Attorney was “filling up Louisiana’s prisons” by charging people with felonies for minor marijuana possession offenses – simply based on their old convictions.

“Landrum-Johnson’s predecessors routinely exercised discretion to treat such offenses as misdemeanors,” Desiree Evans wrote, “but Landrum-Johnson has reversed that policy, racking up felony prosecutions and demonstrating her ‘tough-on-crime’ credentials.” 

In fact, the rate at which her office was charging these minor offenders was so great that the city was projected to incarcerate 4,000 New Orleanians on felony charges – sometimes for possessing less than a gram of marijuana. These sentences would range from 5 to twenty years in prison.

Hindsight is, of course, 20/20, as the saying goes. But community advocates in New Orleans decried the policy in 2008, noting its obviously disproportionate impact on low-income residents of color. 

Ursula Price, senior organizer at Safe Streets Strong Communities, noted that “this is a convenient way of targeting a particular group of people.” 

“In New Orleans, low-income African-Americans make up the majority of those facing charges each month,” Evans continued, “many of whom typically can’t afford bail and must sit in Orleans Parish Prison for extended periods of time.” 

Now, Judge Landrum touts a progressive stance toward criminal justice reform, but when pressed on the actual changes by advocates, she skirts the issue. 

On November 20, Justice and Beyond – a coalition of justice-seeking organizations led by progressive Black New Orleanians – issued a public message calling on Judge Landrum to stop dodging progressive voters.


“Judge Keva Landrum, unlike her opponent, turns down requests from progressive Black and White voters who want to question her on mass incarceration and the district attorney’s screening of cases,” Justice and Beyond said. “We can all learn from our mistakes.” 

Statement from Justice and Beyond on November 20, regarding Judge Landrum’s dodginess on issues important to progressive voters. Courtesy of Justice and Beyond.


“As former District Attorney and Chief Judge of Criminal District Court, Keva Landrum understands the importance of prosecuting violent criminals,” the Judge’s campaign page proudly states.

When DA Landrum-Johnson flooded Criminal District Court with small-time marijuana offenses, the decision did not occur in a vacuum. 

According to New Orleans City Business, that decision came at a price – fewer resources to prosecute and stop violent crime in New Orleans, which at the time led the nation in murder cases per capita. 

“The flood of new felony charges didn’t target murderers, rapists, or armed robbers,” the City Business wrote. 

“The resulting impact has clogged the courts with non-violent, petty offenses, drained the resources of the criminal justice system, and damaged low-income African American communities.”

But this does not cover every oversight by Judge Landrum. 

While serving as District Attorney from 2007-2008, a man convicted of robbery, kidnapping, and rape years earlier was petitioning the court to have his convictions overturned. 

According to NOLA.com, during this time, the DA’s office was in possession of a memo that favored this man’s case – but they did not give it to defense attorneys.

That man was Robert Jones, who was finally released after the memo showed his innocence. But under Judge Landrum’s tenure as District Attorney, that exculpatory evidence – referred to as Brady evidence by attorneys – was not released. 

Again, District Attorney Landrum delayed justice for Mr. Jones, while an actual violent criminal walked free. 

District Attorney decisions do not occur out of thin air. While ostensibly influenced by the facts of the case, prosecutors in New Orleans have historically dropped the ball on egregious charges while sending petty criminals to years in prison.

Every decision to charge or not charge is an exercise of power by the DA. When one charges the least powerful members of society, they criminalize those who are the most vulnerable in society; when one lets slide the most powerful, they reify their power and privilege.

Sadly, Judge Landrum’s record shows no deviation from that trend here in New Orleans.

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