The California attorney general’s office and the FBI’s civil rights division will oversee L.A. county’s probe of the death of Robert Fuller, a 24-year-old black man who was found hanging from a tree at a Palmdale park on June 10.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced the move Monday at a news conference with the medical examiner-coroner and other L.A. county officials amid a growing call for further investigation into the case that authorities initially described as an apparent suicide.
Villanueva said he reached out to Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the FBI for transparency in the probe and to ensure “that we’ll leave no rock unturned.” The state and federal authorities are also working with investigators to determine if Fuller’s death is linked to that of Malcolm Harsch, who was found hanging in Victorville two weeks before Fuller’s death.
“Initially, there wasn’t any evidence or information that led us to believe that there was anything other than a suicide [but] we felt better that we should look a little more deeply and carefully just considering all the circumstances at play,” said Dr. Jonathan Lucas, the L.A. County medical examiner.
Officials said they did not find a chair at the scene, only a rope and a backpack that Fuller was wearing.
Authorities will conduct a forensic analysis of the rope and look into Fuller’s medical history, including in Arizona and Nevada, where he previously lived, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
Detectives will also continue searching for any relevant videos, said Capt. Kent Wegener of the agency’s homicide bureau.
The Sheriff’s Department planned to hold a virtual community town hall from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday.
Fuller’s body was discovered last week near Palmdale City Hall. The county medical examiner-coroner’s office said the 24-year-old appeared to have died by suicide, prompting an outcry by his family who believed he wasn’t suicidal and community members who called for an independent investigation and autopsy.
On Saturday, hundreds of protesters marched from the park near City Hall to the sheriff’s station. Many carried signs that read, “Justice for Robert Fuller.” Meanwhile, an online petition demanding an investigation collected more than 200,000 signatures.
The city has issued a statement supporting an independent inquiry, and three elected officials — county Supervisor Kathryn Barger, state Sen. Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita and Assemblyman Tom Lackey of Palmdale — urged California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the probe.
Fuller’s death came amid nationwide protests rebuking the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Fuller’s case brought to light the death of Harsch, also a black man, who was found hanging from a tree on May 31 in Victorville, about 45 miles east of Palmdale.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said foul play was not suspected in the death of 38-year-old Harsch, but his family said they were concerned it will be ruled a suicide to avoid further attention.
The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department said it planned to reach out to San Bernardino County officials during the ongoing investigations.