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Attempt To Link Breonna Taylor To Alleged Drug Trafficking A Source Of Controversy

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Louisville, Ky., is on edge as residents await a decision on whether the officers who killed Breonna Taylor will be charged. That decision is occurring amid recent leaks that suggest Taylor was closely linked to drug trafficking. Amina Elahi of member station WFPL in Louisville reports that some say there is a smear campaign underway.

AMINA ELAHI, BYLINE: From the cover of Vanity Fair's September issue, Breonna Taylor gazes evenly at the viewer, seafoam dress flowing. The painting is the elevated form of the many popular tributes depicting Taylor, at times wreathed in flowers or even wearing a halo. Ever since her story caught the nation's attention in May, two months after police shot and killed her at home, supporters have highlighted her best attributes. Taylor was an emergency room technician. She dreamed of becoming a nurse. She was fun. Most importantly, they say, she was innocent.

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GREG FISCHER: Obviously, Breonna's passing has been a terrible tragedy for the community and for her family.

ELAHI: That's Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.

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FISCHER: Any attempt to link her is just not relevant to the investigation that's taking place right now. So it's not helpful.

ELAHI: Mayor Fischer says Taylor didn't deserve to die, and it would be unjust to draw conclusions based on limited information. He says attempts to sway opinion and influence the investigation are, quote, "wrong and divisive." The mayor has criticized leaked documents, like the report on Taylor's alleged link to drug trafficking, which was reportedly compiled after Taylor's killing. A representative for the Louisville Metro Police Department declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.

Lonita Baker is an attorney representing Taylor's family in a wrongful death lawsuit.

LONITA BAKER: If people thought she was a drug dealer, it would not have justified her murder, the way that she was murdered.

ELAHI: Baker denies Taylor was involved in drugs or was even still connected to her ex-boyfriend Jamarcus Glover, a main target of the investigation that led police to her door. Baker says even if the allegations were true, it wouldn't matter.

BAKER: Once people are able to see all of the evidence, they will agree that she was not.

ELAHI: Plainclothes police shot and killed Taylor during a middle-of-the-night raid. Her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, fired one shot because he says he thought they were intruders. Police say that shot injured an officer. Police returned fire, with five bullets striking Taylor and killing her. Criminal investigations by Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron and the FBI are pending.

Baker thinks there have been intentional attempts to smear Taylor's name. So another lawyer on Baker's team posted an image of a plea offer for Taylor's ex-boyfriend, Glover, that listed Taylor as a codefendant. Glover says he didn't take the offer from the district attorney because Taylor wasn't involved.

BAKER: It's disappointing. It borders along the lines of unethical.

ELAHI: But the district attorney, Tom Wine, defended his actions. In a statement, he emphasized it was the family's lawyer who released the plea document that smeared Taylor by reminding the public that Glover used her to further his drug trafficking. Wine said he had Taylor's name removed from the final draft and did not release either version out of respect to Taylor and due to the ongoing investigations.

Kristin Nicole Dukes, the dean for institutional diversity at Allegheny College, has studied how people assign fault to victims in fictional shooting situations.

KRISTIN NICOLE DUKES: If you paint this negative Black stereotypic portrayal of the victim in the media, what you get is this lasting implication in the arena of public opinion.

ELAHI: Her research found describing a fictional victim that way led study participants to blame the victim more and the shooter less, even when it came to charging them. Duke says the public wants information about shooting victims, and in some cases, it humanizes them. But Taylor's image is more complicated.

DUKES: We're able to talk about humans, everyday people, flaws and all. Breonna Taylor isn't being afforded that opportunity. And in that way, she isn't human; she's being superhuman.

ELAHI: She says it doesn't matter whether Taylor was good or bad; what matters is justice.

For NPR News, I'm Amina Elahi in Louisville.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.