Southern California authorities on Thursday said the case on the death of Robert Fuller, a 24-year-old Black man found hanging from a tree last month is a clear case of suicide.
“Linear scars” on Fuller’s left wrist are “strongly suggestive of prior suicidal ideation,” the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner’s report by Dr. Mathew J. Miller, deputy medical examiner, said.
“The manner of death is suicide,” he wrote.
A representative for Fuller family attorney Jamon R. Hicks said the family had no response to the report on Thursday. They planned to have a press conference on Friday, spokeswoman Jasmyne Cannick said. The family had previously called for an independent investigation and autopsy.
Fuller’s body was discovered hanging from a tree early on June 10 in Poncitlán Square near Palmdale City Hall. Three days later, Capt. Ronald Schaffer of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department told demonstrators concerned about a possible lynching that the case was a suicide, but that the investigation was ongoing.
The FBI, the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the office of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra all said they’d review the investigation following calls for further inquiry.
Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Commander Chris Marks said Thursday Fuller was found hanging from braided rope and fabric, which was attached to the tree at multiple points. Evidence indicated “the victim was not hoisted into that position,” Marks said.
Red rope used in the hanging was consistent with rope purchased at an area Dollar Tree store with a public assistance electronic benefit transfer card on May 14, he said. There was no video of the purchase, but there was video of Fuller using the same card afterward, Marks said.
DNA tests on the rope found Fuller’s genetic code, he said.
There were no signs of struggle, no defensive wounds and no indications he was bound, the commander said. Investigators said they found evidence that Fuller had bouts of suicidal thoughts and actions since 2017.
Toxicology testing found tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, in the man’s system.
In 2017 Fuller was treated by an Arizona hospital that said he had stated “he wanted to put a gun to his head,” Marks said.
In November and February of 2019 he was treated at hospitals for “voices telling himself to kill himself” and for depression, the commander said.
And on Feb. 16 the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department said he tried to light himself on fire, Marks said.
Even as activists and demonstrators expressed concern that the sheriff’s department was too quick to lean toward suicide, Lt. Brandon Dean said Fuller’s family was “open minded about his cause of death, not really speculating one way or the other.”
Fuller’s family made headlines again just days after his death, when his half brother was involved in a deadly gunfight on June 17 with L.A. sheriff’s deputies in Kern County north of Los Angeles, authorities said. He was wanted for allegations that included assault with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment, domestic violence and criminal threats.
Fuller’s death drew the attention of social justice advocates, including Kim Kardashian West, who asked her Twitter followers to support a Change.org petition that called for “a thorough and proper investigation.”
On May 31, the body of 38-year-old Malcolm Harsch was cut down from a tree in Victorville, a high desert community about 53 miles from Palmdale. The discovery made news after Fuller’s demise, and some activists also questioned the nature of Harsch’s death.
Family spokesman Najee Ali said on June 19 that Harsch’s relatives believed the case to be suicide after local police let them see video related to the case. “On behalf of the family of Malcolm Harsch unfortunately it seems he did take his own life,” Ali said in a statement.
Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva used the occasion of the case’s conclusion Thursday to criticize those who demanded further investigation, as well as the county’s elected Board of Supervisors for allegedly failing to properly fund mental health treatment and law enforcement.
“We do not have the resources to provide care for all the ones who desperately need it,” he said. “And this is an example why.”