The death of Robert Fuller, a 24-year-old black man found hanged from a tree outside Palmdale City Hall, led to protests Saturday and public officials’ calls for an independent probe.
Authorities have said the death appears to be a suicide but the investigation is ongoing, and coroner’s officials have yet to complete a full autopsy.
Palmdale and Los Angeles County officials have called for an independent investigation into Fuller’s death. Kathryn Barger, chair of the county Board of Supervisors, penned a letter to Attorney General Xavier Becerra requesting he handle the case as the state’s top law enforcement official and attorney.
“It is imperative that the public maintain trust in the investigative process, especially given the sensitive nature of this case and its many unknowns,” Barger wrote.
She wrote that Becerra’s handling of the investigation would lend “credibility, expertise and sensitivity to an already grieving community that deserves answers.”
The city of Palmdale released a statement Saturday morning also supporting the calls for an independent investigation and autopsy for Fuller.
“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 read.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s announcement that the death was believed a suicide was immediately met with outrage from community members during a news conference Friday.
Some yelled, “that’s a lie” and “get another coroner.” One person criticized officials as being quick to say it appeared to be a suicide before a full autopsy was complete.
Following the city’s response, the Sheriff’s Department released another statement Saturday afternoon, which read in part:”…it appears Mr. Fuller, tragically, committed suicide.” The department reiterated that the investigation remains ongoing.
Fuller, who a passerby found Wednesday in the 38300 block of 9th Street East, was described as “a sweet young man” who grew up in the Antelope Valley with a supportive family.
“It wasn’t no suicide,” his cousin, Robert Boyer, told KTLA. “He didn’t kill himself. He wasn’t that type of person.”
The case has drawn national attention and impassioned reactions online, with more than 128,400 people signing a Change.org petition demanding a full investigation and the release of surveillance footage.
An online fundraiser to help Fuller’s family with burial expenses raised more than $184,000 Saturday, far surpassing its goal of $100,000.
During Saturday’s rally, a growing crowd of demonstrators came together for a moment of silence, raised their fists in solidarity and marched from the park where Fuller’s body was found to the sheriff’s station, the Associated Press reported.
Some could be seen kneeling and holding up signs that read “Justice for Robert Fuller.”
Diamond Alexander, Fuller’s sister, spoke to the crowd in the courtyard behind Palmdale’s City Hall, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“We want to find out the truth on what really happened,” she said. “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.”
Meanwhile, family members of a 38-year-old man who was found hanged from a tree in Victorville on May 31 were also expressing doubt over authorities’ initial suspicion of suicide.
The body of Malcolm Harsch was discovered hanging from a tree near 7th Street and Zenda Street shortly after 7 a.m., San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Jodi Miller said.
Investigators initially found “no indications at the scene suggested foul play,” she said.
But family members of Harsch told the Victor Valley News in a statement that “The explanation ofg suicide does not seem plausible.”
The deaths comes as the country reels from the in-custody death George Floyd in Minneapolis and amid international Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality.
Los Angeles County saw more than two weeks of massive protests to decry police violence against people of color.
Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors took to Instagram to call for people to march and rally for answers outside Palmdale City Hall Saturday.
Anyone with information about Fuller’s death can reach the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.
Editor’s note: If you are feeling distressed or concerned for a loved one’s wellbeing, help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. It provides free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also call a loved one, member of the clergy or 911.
The California Peer-Run Warm Line also offers free support for nonemergency mental health issues, and can be reached at 855-845-7415 on 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays.
Marissa Wenzke and Brian Day contributed to this report.