UPDATE: JULY 9, 2020, 5:08 P.M. – Additional information released about the investigation continues to fill in the picture of Robert Fuller’s life and death. Detectives have released their full report which looks more deeply into Fuller’s history of issues with self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
According to the Los Angeles Times, LASD report shows that Fuller was hospitalized due to “auditory hallucinations” and saying he “wanted to put a gun to his head” in January of 2017. In 2019, he was hospitalized twice, once due to “hearing voices telling him to kill himself.” It appears that at some point Fuller moved to Nevada, finding himself periodically staying at a shelter for homeless youth.
An attorney for the Fuller family says they will release their own response to the findings today. The family has been working with their own private investigator and requested an independent autopsy in parallel to the LASD investigation. Investigators noted that the family had been cooperating with the investigation and had shared significant information that had helped in reaching the determinations.
UPDATE: JULY 9, 2020, 1:30 P.M. – The Los Angeles Sheriff’s department has officially ruled the death of Robert Fuller to be a suicide, after first making a quick announcement of that assumption, then stating they were going to “roll back” the initial assessment.
CBS Los Angeles reports that the department claims to have based the determination both on an autopsy by the county medical examiner and additional evidence. The LASD claims that they found that Fuller’s EBT card was used to purchase a rope similar to the one from which he was found hanging, and that Fuller had previously expressed suicidal thoughts in some context.
The LASD’s handling of the case has come under scrutiny from the public, and both the FBI Civil Rights Division and the California Attorney General’s office felt it appropriate to step in to monitor the investigation.
JUNE 15, 2020 – In the last two weeks, two Black men have been found dead, hung from trees outside civic buildings in Southern California towns just miles from one another. Malcolm Harsch was discovered on May 31 in Victorville and, on June 10, Robert Fuller was found hanging outside City Hall in the Los Angeles County suburb of Palmdale. Initially, authorities suggested that both were likely suicides, but after days of public demands for a more intensive investigation, those early statements have been walked back.
Hundreds of protesters have gathered daily in the park where Fuller’s body was found. Close family members have addressed the assembly, sharing their shock and skepticism that the death was a suicide.
“We want to find out the truth of what really happened. Everything that they’ve been telling us has not been right,” Diamond Alexander, Fuller’s sister, told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday. “My brother was not suicidal. My brother was a survivor.”
Jonathan Lucas, the chief medical examiner-coroner for Los Angeles County, told reporters at a Monday press briefing that Fuller’s death was labeled a possible suicide because no indications of homicide were immediately obvious at the scene. But now he now “felt it prudent to roll that back” and continue the investigation.
“Initially, there wasn’t any evidence or information that lead us to believe that there was anything other than a suicide,” he said. “But that changed, or, I should say, we felt better that we should look into it a little bit more deeply and carefully, just considering all the circumstances at play.”
Results from an autopsy and toxicology screening have not yet been released. Investigators did confirm that no chair or stool—the type of item one might stand on to attach a noose to a high tree branch when hanging oneself—was found at the scene.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is handling the investigation into Fuller’s death, which will now also be monitored by the California Attorney General’s office and the FBI Civil Rights division.
“We’re taking all the necessary steps to make sure we’re transparent and we’re cross-referencing all our activities, all our investigative efforts, with both the Attorney General’s office and the FBI,” L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said at the briefing.
Investigators from the department’s homicide division noted that their team would continue looking for information about Fuller’s death. Next steps for the investigation include more extensive conversations with Fuller’s family members and others who may have insight into his final days. They also mentioned plans to meet with a case worker from the county’s Department of Public Social Services who, they stated, at some point worked with Fuller, though they would not confirm what program that person may have met with Fuller about.
As of yet, they stated, they have not been in communication with their counterparts in San Bernardino, who are investigating Harsch’s death there, regarding any possible connection between the two hangings.
No possible motive for Fuller’s death has been established but, for some, the sight of a Black man hanging from a tree in a public square has reminded them of the Antelope Valley’s very active struggle with neo-Nazi and white supremacist activity, even within the Sheriff’s Department. The issue in the area is so bad that, in late 2019, Lancaster-Palmdale appeared on a list of “America’s most miserable cities” specifically citing the neo-Nazi gangs. The New Yorker dedicated a lengthy feature to chronicling the neo-Nazis and skinheads of the Antelope Valley.
In a lawsuit following the 2011 death of Darrell Logan Jr., an unarmed man shot 11 times by L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies, in Palmdale, his family brought forth evidence of a “neo-Nazi cop gang” within the department known as the Vikings, another group known as the Regulators, and “other gang-type cliques” of officers.
When a reporter at Monday’s briefing asked Villanueva if his department might be investigating any connection between Fuller’s death and white supremacist groups, law enforcement or civilian, he did not provide a direct answer. He did, however, bring up a 2015 settlement agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the LASD stemming from deputy misconduct, excessive use of force, and housing discrimination, based out of the Lancaster and Palmdale stations.
“That happened before I took office as sheriff,” he noted. “I think the reforms have been put in place, and they’re working, to date.”
The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department will host an online “community conversation” at which Palmdale and Lancaster residents will have an opportunity to raise their concerns about the investigation and raise other issues with policing in the Antelope Valley.