PALMDALE – Dozens of people gathered Friday to demand a full investigation into the death of a 24-year-old black man found hanging from a tree near Palmdale City Hall, and blasted city and sheriff’s officials for quickly suspecting suicide without exploring the possibility of a hate crime.
Robert Fuller‘s body was found with a rope around the neck, hanging from a tree just before 4 a.m. Wednesday, June 10, in Poncitlan Square, according to Lt. Brandon Dean of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Dean said Thursday that all indicators point to suicide, but investigators were waiting for full autopsy results and information from the man’s next of kin regarding past issues with mental illness.
The Sheriff’s Department also released a statement Friday that said: “Although the investigation is ongoing, it appears Mr. Fuller, tragically, committed suicide. A full autopsy is anticipated in the immediate future. Investigators have been in contact with Mr. Fuller’s family and are continuing their investigation into the circumstances surrounding Mr. Fuller’s death.” [View the full statement here.]
The coroner’s office performed an autopsy on Fuller on Friday, and deferred the cause of death.
“When a cause of death is deferred, a deputy medical examiner is requesting additional investigation, including laboratory testing and witness statements, before providing a final determination on the cause and manner of death,” an official at the coroner’s office said.
Many people took to social media to demand a full investigation into the death, and Friday afternoon, dozens attended a press conference with Palmdale Mayor Steve Hofbauer. [View the press conference above]
“We’re working hard to try to figure out exactly what happened,” Hofbauer told the crowd.
“I can’t pull it out of a crystal ball what the coroner and the sheriff’s department is going to find here,” Hofbauer said.
Hofbauer said investigators were “trying to figure out what was going on with Mr. Fuller the last few weeks… Who was he with?”
Hofbauer said there is no video footage from the area where the body was found, even though it is across the street from City Hall — an assertion that drew expletives from the crowd.
The death comes on the heels of a national conversation about racism in the U.S., and the circumstances of Fuller’s death evokes the country’s sordid history of lynchings.
Nearly 5,000 lynchings occurred in the U.S. between 1882 and 1968, according to the NAACP. More than 70% of those lynched were black.
Palmdale sheriff’s station Capt. Ron Shaffer told the crowd investigators have been in touch with Fuller’s family. He said the department is asking for the public’s help to learn about Fuller’s whereabouts prior to his death.
“If anyone has information about Mr. Fuller or his recent travels, where he’s been or where he’s been staying, we encourage you to call law enforcement so we can get a complete picture of what happened,” Shaffer said.
Two of Fuller’s cousins told NBC4 they do not believe Fuller would have committed suicide.
A GoFundMe account set up to assist Fuller’s family had raised more than $100,000 as of Friday afternoon.
Anyone with information about this incident is urged to call the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500.
UPDATE: The City of Palmdale issued a statement Friday evening regarding Fuller’s death:
We are all grieving the loss of this young man and our hearts go out to his family and friends during this difficult time,” said Palmdale Mayor Steve Hofbauer. “We also understand the community’s call for a full investigation into this death, and we are asking the same.”
“We will fully cooperate with the Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles County’s Coroner’s Offices, and any and all investigative agencies looking into the matter,” Hofbauer said. “We are awaiting all available details surrounding this tragedy. In addition, we are working with local community leaders to increase the dialogue on how we can best work together and build a safer and more inclusive community.”
“We encourage anyone with information about this incident call Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323/890-5500,” Hofbauer added.
“The City of Palmdale will do everything we can to assist Mr. Fuller’s family during this difficult time as we all wait to learn more about his tragic death,” said Palmdale City Manager J.J. Murphy.”
Previous related story: Suspected suicide: Body found hanging from tree in Poncitlan Square, Palmdale issues statement