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Death of Robert Fuller, found hanging from a tree in California, confirmed as suicide – despite protests

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By Colleen Shalby and Matthew Ormseth

Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators have concluded that Robert Fuller, whose body was found hanging from a tree in Palmdale last month, died by suicide, saying a thorough investigation found no signs of foul play and showed the 24-year-old had previously expressed suicidal behavior.

The findings upheld a preliminary determination of suicide that Fuller’s family and many residents of the Antelope Valley had called into question. Citing the region’s history of racism toward Black people and the backdrop of unrest prompted by George Floyd’s death, they voiced a suspicion that Fuller had been lynched and demanded a more thorough investigation, monitored by outside agencies.

L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva complied, and on Thursday, Cmdr. Chris Marks laid out his detectives’ findings, culled from medical records and interviews with family and social workers. Fuller, Marks said, had a documented history of mental illness and self-harm, having been admitted to hospitals in California, Arizona and Nevada after expressing a desire to kill himself — and on at least one occasion attempting it.

Fuller’s body was found by a passerby hanging from a thin tree outside Palmdale City Hall at 3:39 a.m. on June 10. The tree stands at the edge of a 2-acre courtyard known as Poncitlan Square. The weekend after Fuller’s death, thousands gathered there to memorialize him.

Fuller died one week after another Black man, 38-year-old Malcolm Harsch, was discovered hanging from a tree in Victorville. Although Fuller’s death was initially listed as suicide, questions and demands for an investigation into his death emerged amid Black Lives Matter demonstrations following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.

Harsch died from an apparent suicide, his family said after police discovery of video evidence. Detectives had obtained surveillance video from a nearby vacant building that confirmed the absence of foul play, authorities said.

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©2020 Los Angeles Times

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