FBI, DOJ to Investigate Hanging Deaths of 2 Black Men in California

June 16, 2020 Updated: June 16, 2020

Federal law enforcement authorities are reviewing the investigations into the deaths of two black men whose bodies were found hanging from trees in California, the FBI said.

The two men, 38-year-old Malcolm Harsch of Victorville and 24-year-old Robert Fuller of Palmdale, died about 50 miles apart. In the case of Harsch, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department told local news outlets that foul play wasn’t suspected in the man’s death, while the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said it initially appeared that Fuller committed suicide.

However, over the weekend, there were growing calls on social media and from family members of the two men to further investigate their respective deaths.

The FBI said in a statement on June 15: “The FBI, U.S. Attorney’s office for the Central District of California, and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division are actively reviewing the investigations into the hanging deaths of two African American men in the cities of Palmdale and Victorville to determine whether foul play or civil rights violations played a role.”

Protesters and people who attended a town hall with Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva on June said Fuller and Harsch might have been lynched. They also said that investigators are rushing to judgment, according to The Associated Press.

Diamond Alexander, Fuller’s sister, told the Los Angeles Times: “My brother was not suicidal. He was a survivor.” The LA Times also reported that Fuller attended a Black Lives Matter protest in the days before his death.

Dr. Jonathan Lucas, the chief medical examiner-coroner in Los Angeles County, said an initial finding in Fuller’s death was the result of there being nothing at the scene suggesting foul play. A rope and a backpack were found near his body and nothing else.

Police man an intersection
A police car at an intersection in Palmdale, Calif., in a file photo. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

“The initial report appeared to be consistent with a suicide, but we felt it prudent to roll that back and continue to look deeper,” Lucas said, according to AP.

Following the outrage over Fuller’s death, Harsch’s family issued a statement to a local newspaper, the Victor Valley News, saying that he had died about 10 days before.

“Our brother Malcolm Harsch died on May 31st. His cause of death has not been released to the family yet but we are concerned that his death will be labeled as a suicide, as this is what was communicated to us upon confirmation of his death on the morning of June 1st,” the family said.

“We understand that Victorville is a small city and have been reminded regularly that San Bernardino is very busy (as if we aren’t patient enough for necessary answers) but feel that our brother’s death will be waived off as a suicide to avoid any further media attention. Malcolm had very recent conversations with his children about seeing them soon. He didn’t seem to be depressed to anyone who truly knew him. EVERYONE who knew our brother was shocked to hear that he allegedly hung himself and don’t believe it to be true.”