Police Said No Foul Play in Deaths of 2 Black Men Hanging From Trees, But Families Are Skeptical

Relatives of both Malcolm Harsch and Robert Fuller are calling for independent investigations of their deaths

robert fuller, Malcolm Harsch
Robert Fuller, Malcolm Harsch. Photo: Change.org; Facebook

The families of two black men whose bodies were recently found hanging from trees in California in separate incidents are publicly doubting pronouncements local authorities have made that the deaths didn't involve foul play — and are calling for independent investigations.

Malcolm Harsch, 38, was found dead the morning of May 31, hanging from a tree near the library in Victorville. While the investigation into his death continues, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department told the Victor Valley News that "there were no indications at the scene that suggested foul play," Jodi Miller said. "However, the cause and manner of death are still pending."

In a statement to the paper, Harsch's relatives said he was not depressed, and had recently spoken to his children, expressing excitement that he'd soon see them.

"The explanation of suicide does not seem plausible," the family wrote, noting they were told Harsch had blood on his shirt, and that his feet were touching the ground. "There are many ways to die but considering the current racial tension, a black man hanging himself from a tree definitely doesn't sit well with us right now. We want justice, not comfortable excuses."

Last week, 50 miles east in Palmdale, 24-year-old Robert Fuller's body was found hanging from a tree near City Hall. The first call about Fuller came in early Wednesday morning, and firefighters responded to the scene, pronouncing him dead.

Authorities initially deemed the death a suicide, but then ordered an autopsy under mounting public pressure, according to the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

Fuller's death remains under investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger has asked the state attorney general to conduct an independent review.

On Saturday, Fuller's sister, Diamond Alexander, spoke at a rally in Palmdale, saying it doesn't make sense her brother would kill himself.

"Everything that they've been telling us has not been right," she said. "We've been hearing one thing. Then we hear another. And we just want to know the truth. My brother was not suicidal. He wasn't."

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Investigators are attempting to recover surveillance footage from Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, community activists are calling on officials to release the name of the man who found Fuller's body, and have launched a petition, calling for an independent investigation into his death.

"This was not a case of suicide but murder," says the petition, which has nearly 300,000 signatures.

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