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San Bernardino Sheriff's Dept. Says No Foul Play In Hanging Death Of Malcolm Harsch

Candles and signs are placed beneath the tree where Malcolm Harsch, a 38-year-old black man, was allegedly found hanged in Victorville, California. (Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP)
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Authorities have ruled out "foul play" in the death of Malcolm Harsch, a 38-year-old Black man who was found hanging from a tree near a library in Victorville on May 31.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department says they used surveillance video of the incident, along with other evidence, to reach that conclusion. Detectives obtained the surveillance video from a vacant building near the location where Harsch's body was found.

Detectives have already met with Harsch's family and showed them the video, per their request, according to the public advisory issued by the department.

The incident began with a 911 call shortly after 7 a.m. on May 31 from a woman who said her boyfriend had hanged himself. Harsch was pronounced dead at the scene by Sheriff's Department personnel, after attempts to revive him with C.P.R.

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Despite the declaration of no "foul play," there is still no official cause or manner of death from the coroner's office (Harsch's death was initially ruled a suicide until community members demanded an investigation). The Sheriff's Department says they are still investigating the death and a forensic pathologist assigned to the case is still waiting for toxicology results. The results of the autopsy were released on June 12.

Members of local media were allowed to see the surveillance video, which has not been released to the public. LAist has reached out to the Sheriff's Department for more information.

Harsch's death came two weeks before the hanging death of another black man, 24-year old Robert Fuller, about 50 miles away in Palmdale. Fuller's death sparked protests there last Saturday.

An investigation into Fuller's cause of death is still underway, but Black Lives Matter founder Melina Abdullah told KPCC's public affairs show AirTalk today that she does not believe it was a suicide.

"It's important that we remember that we can't rely on police to tell us what is a suicide," she said.

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Harsch's family members said they didn't think his death was a suicide, either.

"He didn't seem to be depressed to anyone who truly knew him," Harsch's family told reporters. "Everyone who knew our brother was shocked to hear that he allegedly hung himself and don't believe it to be true. The explanation of suicide does not seem plausible."

People hold up placards during a protest over the death of Malcolm Harsch, a black man who was found hanging from a tree, June 16, 2020, in Victorville, California.(Valerie Macon / AFP via Getty Images)

Details of Harsch's death didn't get public attention until they were linked to Fuller's death by multiple activists and members of the public, due to the fact that both men were Black and found hanging in public parks. Protestors in Palmdale called Fuller's death a lynching, questioning why a Black man would choose to end his life in such a racially charged way that evokes America's frought history with lynching.

On Sunday, June 14, Palmdale County and state officials asked for an investigation from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. And on Wednesday, June 17, Victorville residents demanded answers from their city council about Harsch's death, and said the public should have been alerted sooner.

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"For a man to be hung and we not know about it for 13 days, it's horrible, that's just horrible," community member Collette Harris said. "Why would it take so long for us to know that this man was hung on May 31st and we don't find out until June 13th?"

Both Fuller and Harsch's deaths happened amid a national conversation about racism in the United States in the aftermath of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis. The circumstances of both deaths evoke the country's sordid history of lynchings.

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