Officials Walk Back Initial Call Of 'Likely Suicide' In Palmdale Hanging

A yearbook photo of Robert Fuller. (Photo shared on Twitter)

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The L.A. County Sheriff's Department has walked back its initial finding that last week's death of 24-year-old Robert Fuller in Palmdale was probably a suicide.

Fuller was found hanging from a tree less than two weeks after 38-year-old Malcom Harsch was found under similar circumstances in Victorville, another high desert city about 50 miles east of Palmdale.

But the preliminary finding that Fuller's death was a likely suicide sparked an angry outcry from those who believe officials were too quick to jump to conclusions in a case that was not yet clear.

At a press conference on Monday, L.A. County Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner Jonathan Lucas said the initial finding was based on the fact that there was no evidence of foul play.

Now, he said, "we felt ... that we should look into it a little more deeply and carefully, just considering all the circumstances at play."

Attorney General Xavier Becerra said his office will assist the sheriff's department in the Fuller investigation.

The city of Palmdale, along with politicians who represent the area — County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, State Sen. Scott Wilk and State Assemblyman Tom Lackey — had all called on Becerra to oversee an independent investigation into Fuller's death.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva said the FBI will also monitor the case.

A memorial at the tree where Fuller's body was found. (Josie Huang/LAist)

The families of Fuller and Harsch believe their deaths were lynchings, not suicides.

"Two young Black men who both families said had no history of depression, mental illness whatsoever, had everything to live for. I find it very strange they were hung within days of each other," activist Najee Ali said Monday at a news conference in downtown L.A.

Ali is calling for an independent investigation into Harsch's death.

The region has a history of activity by neo-nazi groups and housing discrimination aided by the Sheriff's Department against Black residents.

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