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Black man's hanging death in California was suicide, police say

Twenty-four-year-old Robert Fuller was found hanged in a park last month, in the midst of intense national protests over police brutality after George Floyd's death.
Credit: AP
This photo provided by the family of Robert Fuller shows Robert Fuller, who was found dead Wednesday, June 10, 2020, hanging from a tree in Palmdale, Calif.

LOS ANGELES — Warning: The details contained in this story may be considered graphic and disturbing to some readers.

A police investigation confirmed suicide was the cause of death of a Black man found hanging from a tree in a Southern California city park last month, authorities said Thursday.

The investigation revealed Robert Fuller, a 24-year-old homeless man, suffered from mental illness and took his own life early on June 10 in a park near City Hall in Palmdale, a community of about 150,000 people north of Los Angeles, sheriff’s Commander Chris Marks said.

Marks outlined three hospitalizations since 2017 where Fuller told doctors he was considering suicide. The last was in November, when he was being treated for depression at a hospital in Nevada and “disclosed that he did have a plan to kill himself,” Marks said.

Marks also said the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department investigated an incident in February in which Fuller “allegedly tried to light himself on fire.”

Last month, after Fuller's body was reported by a passerby in the park, deputies reported finding no evidence of a crime at the scene. An autopsy conducted the next day resulted in an initial finding of suicide.

That determination outraged Fuller’s family, who said authorities were too quick to dismiss the possibility of a crime. They hired an attorney who said an independent autopsy would be conducted, and the FBI and state attorney general’s office pledged to monitor the investigation.

Credit: AP
Protesters march, Saturday, June 13, 2020, in Palmdale, Calif. People marched to demand an investigation into the death of 24-year-old Robert Fuller.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva said the findings of the investigation and the final determination of suicide were shared with Fuller's family and they were invited to attend the news conference but were out of town.

The family's attorney, Jamon Hicks, said he would issue a statement or hold a news conference later.

The Fuller case came in the midst of intense protests over police brutality following the police killing of death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Following Fuller’s death, more than 1,000 people attended a peaceful protest and memorial around the tree where his body was found.

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His family and friends described him as a peacemaker who loved music and video games, and mostly stayed to himself. He had gone to a Black Lives Matter protest days before he died, the Los Angeles Times reported.

A week after Fuller’s death, his half-brother, Terron J. Boone, was fatally shot by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies. Police say Boone opened fire on deputies as they were about to arrest him on charges that he beat his girlfriend and held her captive for nearly a week. He died at the scene, where a handgun was found.

Fuller was the second Black man recently found hanged in Southern California. Malcolm Harsch, a 38-year-old homeless man, was found in a tree on May 31 in Victorville, a desert city in San Bernardino County east of Palmdale. Publicity surrounding Fuller’s case prompted Harsch’s family to seek further investigation of his death.

Police were able to obtain surveillance footage from a vacant building near where Harsch’s body was found that “confirmed the absence of foul play,” according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. The family was shown the video and said they accepted the finding of suicide.

Editor's note: TEGNA typically does not report on suicides, including naming the deceased, but is doing so here due to the public nature of the case.

If you or someone you know may be struggling with these thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time of day or night or chat online.