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State, FBI to oversee probe into black man’s hanging death

PALMDALE, Calif. (AP) — State and federal authorities will monitor the investigation into the death of a black man found hanging from a tree in the Southern California city of Palmdale, officials said Monday following large weekend protests.

The body of Robert Fuller was discovered last week at a park near City Hall. The county medical examiner-coroner’s office said the 24-year-old man appeared to have died by suicide, prompting an outcry by his family who believed he wasn’t suicidal and community members who called for an independent investigation and autopsy.

“The initial report appeared to be consistent with a suicide but we felt it prudent to roll that back and continue to look deeper,” Dr. Jonathan Lucas said Monday at a news conference.

Officials noted that investigators only found rope and a backpack in the park, and nothing to indicate foul play.

The state attorney general’s office and the FBI’s Civil Rights Division will oversee the investigation, which is being led by the Los Angeles County sheriff’s homicide bureau, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said.

The coroner’s office has completed an autopsy but is awaiting toxicology results, Lucas said. Investigators are also looking at Fuller’s medical history. Homicide detectives also plan to analyze the rope and its knot, canvass the area for video footage, interview Fuller’s social services case worker and speak to anyone who had recently interacted with him.

They are also seeking to meet with Fuller’s family, authorities said.

The state Senate began its session Monday with a moment of silence for Fuller and Malcolm Harsh. The death of Harsh, a 38-year-old black man who was found hanging from a tree on May 31 in Victorville, a desert city about 45 miles (72 kilometers) east of Palmdale, came to light after Fuller’s case.

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said foul play was not suspected in the death of Harsch, but his family said they were concerned it will be ruled a suicide to avoid further attention.

Villanueva said his investigators will consult with San Bernardino detectives to see if there are any commonalities between the deaths of the two men.

On Saturday, hundreds of protesters marched from the Palmdale park near City Hall to the sheriff’s station. Many carried signs that read, “Justice for Robert Fuller.” Meanwhile, an online petition demanding an investigation collected more than 200,000 signatures.

The city has issued a statement supporting an independent inquiry, and three elected officials — county Supervisor Kathryn Barger, state Sen. Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita and Assemblyman Tom Lackey of Palmdale — urged California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the probe.

Fuller’s death came amid nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

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