Black man's apparent hanging death on tree under investigation

Dennis Romero and Nicole Acevedo and Andrew Blankstein

The apparent hanging death of a Black man north of Los Angeles prompted questions among residents about authorities' initial finding of suicide.

The body of Robert Fuller, 24, was found near Palmdale City Hall Wednesday afternoon by a passerby, said Capt. Ronald Schaffer of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

"He was hanging from a tree," Schaffer said Friday during a news conference attended by some residents. "Personnel from the adjacent fire station responded and determined that he had passed. Although the investigation is ongoing, it appears that Mr. Fuller has tragically died by suicide."

Someone in the audience said, "That's a lie. That's a lie."

On Saturday, demonstrators gathered outside City Hall to demand a thorough investigation.

On the same day, sheriff's officials in San Bernardino County said a Black man was found hanging from a tree there last month, but no foul play was suspected.

The body was discovered May 31 near a homeless encampment in Victorville, about 53 miles from Palmdale, said Jodi Miller, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, in an email.

"The incident occurred approximately one mile from the Victorville Library," she said. "The decedent was identified as Malcolm Harsch, an African American male 38 years of age. A death investigation is being conducted. There were no indications at the scene that suggested foul play."

The discovery was reported Saturday by the Victor Valley News.

In Palmdale, protesters gathered at the tree where Fuller's body was found. As many as 70 people remained there Saturday evening, said Sgt. B. Park of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. No arrests were reported.

According to NBC Los Angeles, members of Fuller's family and a sheriff's investigator on the case said there was no indication he left a suicide note.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger said she has asked California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to conduct an independent investigation.

"The Attorney General, as the lead attorney and law enforcement official for the State of California, will lend additional expertise and oversight into this important investigation and provide the community with the answers they deserve," she wrote in a letter to Becerra.

The L.A. sheriff's department said in a statement Friday the death was thought to be a suicide but that a probe is ongoing.

"Investigators have been in contact with Mr. Fuller’s family and are continuing their investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr. Fuller’s death," the statement said.

The county coroner's office said in its own statement that a definitive cause of death has been deferred pending further investigation.

"When a cause of death is deferred, a deputy medical examiner is requesting additional investigation, including laboratory testing and witness statements, before providing a final determination on the cause and manner of death," the office said.

Questions about Fuller's death led demonstrators to gather Friday outside City Hall. The social media hashtag #JusticeForRobertFuller was being used to bring attention to the case.

On Friday, Kim Kardashian West urged her Twitter followers to endorse a Change.org petition calling for "a thorough and proper investigation."

Palmdale officials released a statement on Saturday saying the city wants "an independent investigation and an independent autopsy" looking into Fuller's death.

"The City of Palmdale is joining the family and the community's call for justice, and we do support a full investigation into his death. We will settle for nothing less than a thorough accounting of this matter," the statement said, adding that city officials have already reached out to Fuller's family to offer help and support.

"We join with our community and Robert Fuller's family in mourning his tragic death," the city said.