In early June, as protests against racial injustice flared across the country, 24-year-old Robert Fuller’s body was found hanging from a tree in Poncitlán Square in Palmdale, a death the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department quickly determined was a suicide. What followed were daily protests and calls from across the nation for a more thorough investigation into his death, which many had feared was a racially motivated lynching. Even Kim Kardashian West tweeted her support. A week later, Fuller’s half-brother Terron Boone died in a shootout with sheriff’s deputies in Rosamond.
On July 9, LASD finally confirmed the results of its initial investigation and announced its determination that Fuller had committed suicide after a lifetime of suffering from mental illness, including an incident in which he had tried to light himself on fire. It seemed like a simple answer to the questions swirling around the tragic loss of a young life, but the road to the truth wasn’t quite so simple.
Mere days after Boone’s death, troubling allegations about Fuller began to spread on social media, including mention of child molestation and criminal conspiracy. Friends who attended Fuller’s funeral hadn’t heard such rumors and were shocked to see the tweet from which they’d originated.
“There’s no way he would do anything like that,” his friend Victor Adeyokunnu shouted. “He would never do anything to harm another person.”
A screenshot of a text message from an anonymous source was posted to Twitter on June 19 by radio personality Bryan Suits of local AM radio station KFI. The text message claimed that Fuller had been facing charges of child molestation and that the mother of the supposed child victim had left Fuller to stay with Boone.
“Robert Fuller was facing 288 charges,” the tweet claimed, referencing Penal Code 288 PC, which is the California statute that defines the crime as “lewd and lascivious acts with a minor child.” The tweet went on to detail several claims, such as there being video of Fuller purchasing a rope, that a suicide note had been located, and, most damningly, that Fuller had committed child abuse against an unnamed girlfriend’s daughter, who allegedly went to stay with Boone afterward. When Fuller died, the message alleged, Boone kidnapped the woman and threatened her with a firearm. This was “just scratching the surface,” Suits claimed.
For What It's Worth. Tossing this out there. Just scratching the surface.
Confirmed by other sources.
(288 is CA. Criminal Code for Lewd & Lascivious Acts With A Minor Child)
MCB=Major Crimes Bureau
DIS=Deputy Involved Shooting@LACoSheriff pic.twitter.com/OBhHussZ25
— Bryan Suits. KFI Los Angeles (@darksecretplace) June 20, 2020
This tweet appeared to be the only source for a post that quickly went viral in local Facebook community groups, erroneously claiming that KFI, as a news organization, had broken the story.
However, Lieutenant Brandon Dean of LASD’s Homicide Bureau, who was in charge of the investigation into Fuller’s death, denied in an interview that Fuller was facing any allegations of child molestation, stating that Fuller “is not and never was facing 288 charges.” Asked about the accuracy of the rest of the claims, Dean said the text message was a fabrication.
“I don’t know where Mr. Suits is getting his information,” Dean said. “But it is inaccurate.”
Robert Fuller was born on January 26, 1996, the youngest of five siblings. He spent most of his life traveling between the Antelope Valley, Nevada (where his father lives), and Arizona (where his sisters live), and was described by friends and family as a calm, level-headed man who loved anime and usually kept to himself.
“I met Robert in the sixth grade,” says Chad Bellows, a childhood friend of Fuller’s. “I remember he wasn’t talking, I kept harassing him to talk, and he just wouldn’t do it. But then on the third day, I just looked up like ‘what’s up,’ and he was just like, ‘Wassaaaaap!’”
Fuller’s death came as a shock not only to his friends and family but the entire community, as it occurred in the midst of national Black Lives Matter protests, one of which Fuller had attended days before. On social media and at protests, the common refrain was that “Black men don’t hang themselves from trees,” as Fuller was one of many Black men and women alleged to have committed suicide by hanging from a tree in the recent past. Titi Gulley was found hanging in Portland on May 27, 2019; Malcolm Harsch was discovered hanging from a tree in Victorville on May 31 of this year; and Dominique Alexander was found in Fort Tryon Park in Manhattan on June 9. The day after Alexander’s death, Fuller’s body was discovered in Palmdale.
The nature of Fuller’s death led some in the community to wonder it weren’t somehow tied to the area’s legacy of crime linked to white supremacists. According to a 2010 U.S. Department of Justice report, the Antelope Valley had the most incidents of hate crimes reported anywhere in L.A. County. In 1995, three men, later discovered to be part of the white supremacist gang the Peckerwoods, were arrested for firing six rounds into a car at four Black people for “no other reason than the occupants’ race,” according to police. In 2014, three men in Littlerock were arrested following the discovery of an underground bunker in Littlerock containing countless guns, Nazi flags, and pictures of at least one of the men posing in Nazi attire. Even as recently as last year, four first-grade teachers were placed on administrative leave after a photo surfaced of them with a noose.
Local activist Ayinde Love says that the history of racism in Palmdale and Lancaster is deep, but concerns among communities of color are often ignored, in a way he describes as a collective form of gaslighting. He was immediately skeptical of the allegations Suits posted and isn’t surprised they didn’t hold up to scrutiny.
“Every single time that a black person gets killed, there’s always a search or a digging…to try to smear the name, smear the image,” he says. “If the name is damaged enough, that makes it easy for the public to accept the death of the person, no matter how gruesome that death is.”
Fuller family attorney Jamon Hicks’s independent investigation into the allegations in Suits’s Tweet found no evidence of child molestation charges filed or accusations made against Fuller, something he began investigating shortly after KFI and other news outlets started reaching out to him for a statement.
“What was concerning to me was that KFI said they had credible information from the sheriff’s department or that the sheriffs could corroborate the information,” Hicks tells Los Angeles. At a July 10 press conference, he said that what made the tweet more troubling was the hyperspecific language, citing the use of Penal Code 288 as something “only lawyers and law enforcement types would say.”
On social media, posts disseminating Suits’s tweet frequently included captions that questioned Fuller’s arrest record. On April 2, Fuller was cited for a crime listed as a misdemeanor with $70,000 bail. Los Angeles was unable to find out the exact nature of this crime, but many posts claimed was evidence of Fuller’s misconduct, despite the lack of any relevant information. However, the official record does indicate that Fuller was released with a citation, something Suits told us in a Twitter DM is the real controversy.
“The real story that [Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva] wants to go away is that [Fuller] never should have been OUT after his Apr2 arrest,” Suits wrote. ”$70K bail, COVID’d to 0$. He should NOT have been out.”
“If it was something so serious, he’s not getting cited out,” Hicks argues. “Especially on a child molestation charge. Any charge that would be considered remotely serious, he wouldn’t have been cited out. He would have to have been taken into custody and somebody would have had to bail him out.”
The exact origin of the rumors is unknown, but Ayinde Love says he suspects he knows the source. “The police,” he says. “I think that these cases are serving a role as a shovel and digging up all of the skeletons that we’ve been burying and hiding, still in our soil.”
At the sheriff’s department’s July 9 press conference regarding Fuller’s death, further social media rumors were denied by LASD. There was no video of Fuller buying rope like the text message in the tweet alleged; instead, it was found that he had purchased a rope on May 14 at a local Dollar Tree through his EBT transaction history. The text message embedded in the tweet also alleged that a suicide note was located, something the department also denied. Most notably, the department denied allegations that Boone had kidnapped an ex-girlfriend of Fuller’s.
“We have spoken with those individuals listed in the rumor, and they also have no knowledge of it,” Lt. Dean said at the press conference.
Hicks further elaborated that his investigation had found that there is “no validity to the rumor that Fuller was dating her. That is false.”
By all accounts, none of this information went public until it was passed along on Suits’s Twitter page. In the days leading up to his tweet, he posted cryptically, expressing frustration about information he had been given. “I hate knowing stuff that I can’t say on the air in 2020,” he wrote on June 17, the day Terron Boone died. “Truth is in quarantine. Knowledge is still wearing a mask.” Not even 24 hours before tweeting the allegations against Fuller, he followed up by stating, “Today will be seven days since a made up controversy smeared residents of the Antelope Valley. If @LACoSheriff doesn’t fix this, I will. I know what you know, buddy.”
Contacted for comment, Suits shied away from some of the info he shared on social media, explaining that he subsequently tweeted that his source had backed away from the child molestation claims; Los Angeles could not locate that tweet.
“It was always a distraction anyway,” he wrote. “I always preface these things as, ‘Here’s what they’re saying, not for nothing, just putting this out.’”
On June 20, he went live on his show Dark Secret Place—a talk radio show on which he discusses politics, current events, and the military—to discuss the news surrounding Malcolm Harsch, the Black man found hanging from a tree in Victorville less than two weeks before Fuller. After video was located from a nearby store, Harsch’s was officially deemed a suicide by San Bernardino County Sheriffs. Suits used this news as a transition into discussing the Fuller investigation, stating, “All I can say is…the sheriff knows something, isn’t saying it, and the people that are paying the price are the rank and file, when a protest from out of town comes up to Lancaster,” Suits said.
To assure his audience that his information is accurate, he explained that higher-ups at KFI are always telling him to verify information before discussing it. “Don’t get anything on the air that you can’t get somebody to confirm on the record,” he stated. “You don’t do, ‘Some say,’ ‘it’s been said,’ you don’t do that. Not on KFI.”
On June 29, outside of the church in Littlerock where a public viewing for Robert Fuller’s body was taking place were Fuller’s childhood friends Adeyokunnu, Bellows, and Aaron Goins. The men laughed and shared memories of someone they described as a “man of action, in a positive way,” who “was full of life. His smile lit up the whole room.”
“We all grew up together,” Goins said, motioning to his friends and the church where Fuller’s body laid. “They used to always come over to my house when we were working on music, just plotting on whatever we were gonna do for the rest of the day.”
Over the course of our interview, the men shared countless stories about their friend, ranging from the mundane to the more personal. They described a fun but listless experience of skateboarding and trying to make music, like many teenagers do. Like many teenage friendships, the men eventually went their separate ways to live adult lives, but never dropped out of contact. Adeyokunnu recently went to see Fuller in Las Vegas back in January, and talked to him as often as he could.
“He inspired me to be more confident,” Adeyokunnu stated. “Whenever I was in a bad situation with him, he was always the positive one. He always had a positive mindset and when I’m like, ‘Fuck this, it’s fucked,’ he’d always be like, ‘Nah, just keep pushing.’”
With all of the social media rumors dispelled, all that remains of a life cut tragically short are the memories his friends and family have of Fuller. With his death no longer being politicized, his friends are glad to receive a platform to keep the memory of “the man of action, in a positive way” alive, just as they remembered him.
“I’m glad we’re here to defend him,” Bellows stated. “He can’t defend himself.”