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Elected officials call for independent investigation into hanging death of Black man in Palmdale

Diamond Alexander, center, sister of Robert Fuller, joined hundreds of demonstrators in Palmdale on Saturday.
Diamond Alexander, center, sister of Robert Fuller, joined hundreds of demonstrators in Palmdale on Saturday calling for an independent investigation of her brother’s death.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Two state officials have joined a Los Angeles County supervisor in calling on California Atty. Gen. Xavier Beccera to investigate the death of a young Black man found hanging from a tree in a park near Palmdale City Hall.

"``The attorney general, as the lead attorney and law enforcement official for the state of California, will lend additional expertise and oversight into this important investigation and provide the community with the answers they deserve,” said L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who called for the independent inquiry along with state Sen. Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita and Assemblyman Tom Lackey of Palmdale, both Republicans.

Robert Fuller, 24, was found on the edge of a 2-acre courtyard known as Poncitlán Square early Wednesday.

The Los Angeles County medical examiner-coroner’s office initially labeled the death a suicide. Fuller’s family and civic leaders quickly pushed back, insisting that it be investigated as a homicide and demanding an independent probe and autopsy, something the city also has requested.

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“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,” the city said in a statement, contradicting previous assertions by both City Manager J.J. Murphy and Capt. Ron Shaffer of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.

Nearly 2,000 people gathered in Palmdale on Saturday to demand answers about Fuller’s death and to mourn the man who was described by family and friends as a peacemaker with a bright smile. He loved music, anime and video games, and mostly stayed to himself, they said.

“This is really crazy to all of us,” said Fuller’s sister, Diamond Alexander. “We want to find out the truth of what really happened. Everything that they’ve been telling us has not been right.

“To be here, staring at this tree, it don’t make no sense,” Alexander added. “My brother was not suicidal. My brother was a survivor.”

Robert Fuller, the young Black man found hanging from a tree in Palmdale this week.
(Courtesy Tommie Anderson)
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On Saturday, Wilk tweeted that “transparency leads to accountability which leads to trust.”

“Robert Fuller’s family and our community can’t have closure [without] a complete independent investigation,” he wrote.

Fuller’s death has generated intense scrutiny amid a backdrop of nationwide protests set in motion by the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the systemic racial injustices those deaths have come to represent.

The case brought to light the suspicious death of another Black man who was found hanging from a tree May 31 in Victorville, 50 miles from Palmdale. The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said Saturday that foul play was not suspected in the death of 38-year-old Malcolm Harsch.

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“There were no indications at the scene that suggested foul play; however, the cause and manner of death are still pending,” Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Jodi Miller told the Victor Valley News.

In a statement sent to the news outlet, Harsch’s family in Ohio said they find it hard to accept that his death was a suicide. They said Harsch had recent conversations with his children about seeing them soon and that he did not seem to be depressed to anyone who knew him.

“The explanation of suicide does not seem plausible,” the family wrote. “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.”

Times staff writers Kevin Baxter and Deborah Netburn contributed to this report.


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