Federal authorities said they’re “actively reviewing” the investigations into the deaths of two Black men in California just 10 days and 50 miles apart. They both died by hanging, and the initial description of the incidents as suicides sparked outrage amid nationwide unrest over racism and police brutality.
“The FBI, U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California, and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division are actively reviewing the investigations into the hanging deaths of two African American men in the cities of Palmdale and Victorville to determine whether there are violations of federal law,” an FBI spokesperson told the Los Angeles Times Monday.
The families of the two men — Robert Fuller, a 24-year-old who was found hanging from a tree in Palmdale, and Malcom Harsch, a 38-year-old who was found hanging from a tree in Victorville — have pressed for thorough investigations, and for the deaths not to be immediately dismissed as suicides. State officials have also requested independent inquiries into the deaths.
A recent spate of hangings among people of color have drawn skepticism from activists online — with some speculating that they were lynched.
A Black man was found hanging in a New York City park on June 9, although city officials ruled his death a suicide Monday. Also on Monday, a Latino man was found hanging in Houston’s Shady Acres community. Local police said that death appeared to be a suicide too. Additionally, nooses have been spotted hanging in public places in Jackson County, North Carolina, New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, and Rainier, Oregon.
Fuller’s June 10 death at a park was initially deemed an apparent suicide by Los Angeles officials because there wasn’t any evidence of foul play, but family members and activists said that determination was premature, and pressed for an investigation.
Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner Dr. Jonathan Lucas said officials will “continue to look deeper” during a press conference Monday, adding that public suicides “do occur with some regularity.”
There’s no outdoor surveillance video near where Fuller’s body was found. Only the rope, his backpack, and the contents of his pockets were found at the scene. Officials are awaiting toxicology results.
Fuller’s family is demanding an independent autopsy, according to the LA Times.
“To be here, staring at this tree, it don’t make no sense,” Diamond Alexander, Fuller’s sister, told the Times. “My brother was not suicidal. My brother was a survivor.”
Sheriff Alex Villanueva clarified in the same press conference Monday that his office’s homicide investigators were still probing what led to Fuller’s hanging, and that they were in the process of looking into his medical history, analyzing his cellphone records, and conducting forensic testing on the rope.
Additionally, Villaneuva said, he reached out to California’s attorney general and the FBI for help monitoring the case. But he said he felt that his department’s investigators were up to the task too.
“They’re going to do their job, and we’re obviously going to give all the access necessary so we can have the monitoring efforts from both the AG’s office and the civil right’s division of the FBI,” Villanueva said.
The sheriff’s department in San Bernardino County, where Harsch died on May 31, also told CNN that their office had been in contact with California’s attorney general and the FBI.
However, local officials there similarly don’t suspect foul play at this time.
In Harsch’s case, dispatchers received a call from a woman saying her boyfriend hanged himself around 7 a.m., according to the [Victorville Daily Press.
](https://www.vvdailypress.com/news/20200615/sheriffrsquos-dept-releases-more-details-on-malcolm-harschrsquos-hanging-death)By the time deputies arrived, people at the encampment had cut Harsch down and were performing CPR. Emergency responders also carried out additional life-saving efforts for 20 minutes, but Harsch was eventually pronounced dead.
“There are many ways to die, but considering the current racial tension, a Black man hanging himself from a tree definitely doesn’t sit well with us right now,” Harsch’s family, based in Ohio, said in a statement to the Daily Press. “We want justice, not comfortable excuses.”
Cover: Child lights up a candle during a vigil around a makeshift memorial at the tree where Robert Fuller was found dead outside Palmdale City Hall on June 13, 2020. (Photo: APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images)
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741, or visit https://suicidepreventionlifel... for more information.