Officials are requesting an independent investigation into the death of a 24-year-old man who was found hanging from a tree in California this week after police ruled his death a suicide.
Robert Fuller was found dead in Poncitlán Square across from Palmdale City Hall at 3:39 a.m. Wednesday. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said it appeared Fuller had killed himself, but, amid global protests against racial violence, his family, friends, and others in the community have expressed skepticism about the conclusion.
“We really want to find out the truth of what really happened,” his sister Diamond Alexander said during a rally at the public square Saturday. “Everything that they’ve been telling us has not been right. … My brother was not suicidal. He wasn’t.”
On Saturday night, Palmdale city officials said they supported county leaders and state legislators in requesting that the state attorney general’s office conduct an independent investigation into the incident.
“The City of Palmdale joined the family and the community’s call for justice, which includes a full investigation into his death,” the city said in a statement. “The City will settle for nothing less than a thorough accounting of this matter.”
On Monday, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, fire department, and coroner’s office laid out in more detail how officials came to Fuller’s body, why the agencies arrived at the initial impression his death may have been a suicide, and what additional steps remained in the investigation before establishing an official cause of death.
During the press conference, Sheriff Alex Villanueva acknowledged a frustration in the community in light of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of police and the days of protests it sparked, but said the department would move to conduct a thorough investigation that would be monitored by the FBI’s civil rights division.
But officials said their initial assessment from the area where Fuller was found was that his death appeared to be suicide.
Fuller was a “happy 24-year-old” who was close with his family, especially his sisters, and he loved to dance, Hicks said. His family are still reeling and have never had any concerns about Robert’s mental health or well-being, the attorney said.
“The family is completely devastated,” said Hicks. “They want answers. They want full disclosure. Most of all, they want to know that Mr. Fuller’s life mattered.”
The Antelope Valley, where Palmdale is located, has a large Black population and a history of white supremacist skinhead gangs, racially motivated attacks, and racist and discriminatory policies.
In 2016, three neo-Nazis were charged with hate crimes after attacking three Latino teenagers in a park and shouting “Heil Hitler, AV Skins.”
Given the circumstances, the attorney said, he hopes that authorities will also look into Fuller’s death as a possible hate crime.
“This area is known for its skinheads and for having racial conflict, and I would suspect that police would look into that as a potential narrative,” he said. “The manner by which the body was found, not too far from City Hall in an area where there had been protests about Black Lives Matter and George Floyd, you can’t ignore that. That’s why you see such an outrage from the Black community.”
More than 200,000 people have signed a petition calling on the city and the sheriff’s department to conduct a thorough investigation and release security footage and the 911 call reporting his death.
“During such a heightened time with the Black Lives Matter movement and the city’s quickness to call his death a suicide before any investigation, there is reason to believe that Robert’s death was a lynching,” the petition said.