Bodies of 2 Black California Men Found Hanged, Families Demand Answers

Malcolm Harsch and Robert Fuller were found hanged from trees.
The bodies of Malcolm Harsch, left, and Robert Fuller were found hanged from trees 10 days and 50 miles apart. GoFundMe

The two black California men were found hanged from trees about 50 miles apart.

The families of two Southern California black men found hanged from trees 50 miles and 10 days apart are disputing accounts that their relatives may have killed themselves.

The body of 24-year-old Robert Fuller was found last week, hanging from a tree near Palmdale City Hall, and authorities initially said his death appeared to be a suicide. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has announced his office will review the investigation into Fuller's death.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva held a press conference Monday regarding Fuller, whose official cause of death is pending autopsy results. Thousands of demonstrators gathered over the weekend to protest an earlier announcement that Fuller apparently killed himself.

The sheriff said the FBI's Civil Rights Division will also monitor the department's investigation and promised a thorough investigation of the young man's death.

Medical examiner Jonathan Lucas said his staff were awaiting the results of toxicology tests on Fuller's remains and that a final ruling has not been made.

Initial reviews found Fuller's death consistent with suicide, he said. 

“We felt it prudent to roll that back and continue to look deeper, which is why officially the case is still deferred and under investigation,” Lucas said.

“In general, a suicide in public or hanging in a public place is not unheard of," Lucas added. "They do occur and I think initially there wasn’t any evidence or information that led us to believe there was anything other than a suicide. But we felt better that we should look into it a little more deeply,” he said at the press conference.

Lucas called Fuller's death "tragic and sad." Sheriff's homicide detectives were examining a backpack and cell phone found at the scene and canvassing local homes and businesses for any surveillance videos that may have captured the incident, authorities said.

Also over the weekend, the family of 38-year-old Malcolm Harsch, who was found in a tree in Victorville on May 31, came forward to say they, too, are skeptical he killed himself outside the city's library.

Saying Harsch's death is a suicide is an excuse "to avoid any further media attention,” his family said in a statement Saturday.

“The deputy who called to confirm his death asked questions about drug or alcohol use, he made a statement about how the coronavirus has ‘hit people really hard’ and said that a USB cord was used to hang himself,” the statement said. 

The families' demands occur against a backdrop of massive rallies across the country protesting the police killing of George Floyd, a black man who died after officers held him down by the neck and back for nearly nine minutes as he gasped that he couldn't breathe.

Harsch, who was living in a homeless encampment, did not appear depressed or suicidal, his family said.

His death is under investigation by the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department. “There were no indications at the scene that suggested foul play; however, the cause and manner of death are still pending,” said spokeswoman Jodi Miller in a statement.

In neighboring Los Angeles County, Palmdale city officials sparked public outrage after issuing a statement that Fuller had been depressed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and "tragically, committed suicide.”

“We want to find out the truth on what really happened. Everything they told us is not right. We just want the truth. My brother was not suicidal. He was a survivor. He was street smart,” Fuller’s sister, Diamond Alexander, told the crowd at Saturday's demonstration.

Online petitions asking for greater scrutiny of the deaths are drawing hundreds of thousands of signatures.