Orleans Parish District Attorney accepts road-rage case against cousin of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu _lowres

Kenneth Landrieu

Prosecutors and defense attorneys agree that Kenneth Landrieu whipped out a handgun during a confrontation on a Lower Garden District street in September 2015. But they disagree on whether he was acting out of road rage or as a civic-minded reserve Sheriff's Office deputy.

Landrieu, a 54-year-old cousin of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, went on trial Tuesday on a single felony count of aggravated assault with a firearm.

His mother Phyllis is the sister-in-law of former Mayor Moon Landrieu, the present mayor's father.

Prosecutors at first charged Kenneth Landrieu with false personation of a peace officer because he wore a badge during the encounter. But they dropped that charge after discovering that Landrieu was a reserve Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy.

On Tuesday, the victim, Joseph Harris, took the stand to give his version of events. He said he was driving on Magazine Street when he passed Landrieu's vehicle to avoid colliding with him.

Landrieu tried to block him off at Magazine and St. Andrew streets and then stopped him at Sophie Wright Place and St. Mary Street, Harris said. It was nearly the same spot where Cardell Hayes would shoot former Saints player Will Smith seven months later.

“I just want to get away from this guy, so I throw it in reverse, and I make it maybe a foot, and he jumps out with gun already in hand and cocks it,” Harris said.

Harris said that Landrieu told him, “Don’t you (expletive) move, you (expletive). Don’t you (expletive) move, you (expletive) maniac!”

Landrieu was wearing a six-pointed badge pinned to his shirt. He asked Harris whether he was drinking and smoking and threatened to call his “boys” to arrest him, Harris said.

“So I just went full submission. I said, 'Yes, sir, I’m not going to say another word' ... and he puffed up his chest and said 'Good,' and started driving,” Harris said.

Harris said he feared that Landrieu could have shot him.

“He was beet-red, angry. It looked like his blood pressure was through the roof. He was obviously extremely pissed off, angry,” Harris said.

Two days later, Harris called 911 to report the incident. Defense attorneys sought to seize upon that lag and on alleged inconsistencies in Harris’ story.

Defense attorney Thomas Calogero sought to show that Harris decided to call police only because he believed that a member of the Landrieu family was involved. Harris testified that his wife was able to deduce that the license plate on Kenneth Landrieu's car belonged to Landrieu Public Relations, a firm controlled by Phyllis Landrieu.

"You’re thinking that possibly Mitch Landrieu ... has something to do with this vehicle," Calogero said.

"I had no clue who the driver was. ... I wanted the person that was driving the car that pulled the gun on me," Harris said.

Landrieu was given his reserve badge in 2007 because he had lived on the same street as Sheriff Marlin Gusman in the 1980s and earned a reputation as a “crimefighter” back then, Calogero said in his opening statement.

When Landrieu saw Harris passing him at a “very, very high rate of speed,” he felt an “obligation” to stop him, Calogero said.

“You’re going to be left to wonder what is the motivation of this District Attorney’s Office to take this felony charge with this lack of evidence. ... (Landrieu) simply wanted to slow a man down. He wanted to protect the public,” Calogero said.

During jury selection, defense attorneys sought to weed out anyone with an allergy to the Landrieu clan by asking about a hot-button topic.

“Some people are upset with the mayor and the mayor's family over these monuments. I think something nobody predicted was the level of passion against the mayor for removing Civil War-era monuments,” Calogero said.

Before Calogero could finish setting up a question on the prospective jurors' feelings about the mayor, one of them responded.

“I think it’s more offensive that you’re adopting his position!” said prospective juror 17, who described himself as a longtime political consultant.

"I’m sorry, I don’t remember taking someone’s position," Calogero said. "Thank you for sharing that with us. Because you, obviously, were very disappointed with the monuments being removed."

The consultant was left off the jury, as was another woman who wanted the Confederate monuments to stay.

“I’ll never vote for a Landrieu again. And I voted for all of them before,” the woman said.

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.

msledge@theadvocate.com | (504) 636-7432