The FBI and California Attorney General’s Office will be involved in the investigations of the deaths of 24-year-old Robert L. Fuller and 38-year-old Malcolm Harsch—two black men who were recently found hanging from trees in California.
On Monday, The Root reported that Fuller’s body was found hanged from a tree across from City Hall in Palmdale last Wednesday, and Harch was found in San Bernardino 10 days earlier on May 31. In both cases, medical examiners say they found no real signs of foul play. Fuller’s death was initially ruled a suicide before Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner Dr. Jonathan Lucas said officials “felt it prudent to roll that back and continue to look deeper,” ABC News reports. Harch’s autopsy was done on June 12 and, while no evidence of homicide was found, medical examiners are waiting for toxicology results before they can determine the official cause of death.
The FBI announced its involvement in the investigations Monday, saying in a statement: “The FBI, U.S. Attorney’s office for the Central District of California and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division are actively reviewing the investigations into the hanging deaths of two African American men in the cities of Palmdale and Victorville to determine whether there are violations of federal law.”
The announcement comes after family members of both men had been seeking further investigations into their deaths and better transparency from the investigators. Both families also doubt, or outright reject, the idea that suicide was the cause of death.
“We really want to find out the truth of what really happened,” Diamond Alexander, Fuller’s sister, said during a Saturday protest in Palmdale calling for further investigations into Fuller’s death. “Everything that they’ve been telling us has not been right. My brother was not suicidal. He wasn’t.”
According to the New York Times, Harsch’s sister, Harmonie Harsch, said in a Sunday interview that their family is “really just trying to get more answers as to what happened.”
“My brother was so loving, not only to his family but even strangers. It is not like him,” she said.
Jamon R. Hicks, the attorney representing Fuller’s family said in a statement Tuesday that the family and community members are “enraged” that “the Sheriff’s Department immediately declared his death a suicide,” according to ABC.
“For African-Americans in America, hanging from a tree is a lynching. Why was this cavalierly dismissed as a suicide and not investigated as a murder?” Hicks said. “We want complete transparency. To that end, the family should choose the pathologist to conduct the independent autopsy.”
On Sunday, Hicks told BuzzFeed News that the area where Fuller was found “is known for its skinheads and for having racial conflict, and I would suspect that police would look into that as a potential narrative.”
“The manner by which the body was found, not too far from City Hall in an area where there had been protests about Black Lives Matter and George Floyd, you can’t ignore that. That’s why you see such an outrage from the Black community,” he said.