Activists and local community residents have demanded a thorough probe into what they suspect was a hate crime, after a black man was discovered hanging from a tree in a Los Angeles suburb, reported local website LAist.
Although the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has released initial results of a coroner's investigation that indicate 24-year-old Robert Fuller most likely hanged himself in a Palmdale park this week, skeptics remain unconvinced.
On 10 June a passerby discovered Fuller's body in an area called Poncitlan Square, not far from the city hall, and called 911, according to Lt. Brandon Dean with the Palmdale sheriff's station, with homicide detectives and the coroner's office responding.
"From initial investigation of the scene and everything we've recovered, all signs right now lead us to believe this was a suicide… Without going into too much detail, it doesn't appear there was any sign of a fight or struggle," Lt. Brandon Dean was quoted as saying on Friday.
Dean added that the probe was ongoing, with the coroner's office to perform an autopsy.
Preliminary findings of death by suicide were confirmed by a statement from Palmdale City Manager J.J. Murphy.
“[s]adly, it is not the first such incident since the COVID-19 pandemic began," says the statement.
Despite preliminary findings to the contrary, at a news conference on Friday afternoon community members slammed city and law enforcement officials for publicly suggesting that Robert Fuller may have committed suicide before the investigation has been completed.
While underscoring that their statement had been based on the coroner’s findings, Palmdale Mayor Steve Hofbauer admitted that "we should have stated it better".
Emphasizing that the results were "preliminary," Hofbauer said that cameras in Poncitlan Square could not help clarify the incident, as they were low-resolution ones that follow traffic in real time but do not record.
As the mayor announced a thorough investigation with help sought from other investigative agencies, the officials were unanimous in seeking to establish exactly what happened.
After the new conference, city and sheriff's office officials met privately with the family of the deceased.
Robert Fuller's sister, Diamond Alexander, posted several messages on Facebook, sharing information about the death of her younger brother, and urging people with information that might help the investigation to come forward.
Meanwhile, amid the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests across the US sparked by the death of African American Minnesota resident George Floyd while in police custody, speculation about what really happened to Robert Fuller sent the hashtag, "JusticeForRobertFuller," trending nationally on 12 June.
Netizens expressed lack of trust in the preliminary findings and claimed that “something want right.”
This is the tree they allege #RobertFuller hung himself from. No visual abrasions, no damaged branches, nothing visually disturbed. Still no explanation from the Sheriff’s department #JusticeforRobertFuller pic.twitter.com/whn5fmWE8l— Nathaniel Woods (@NPWJR) June 12, 2020
All these city services and businesses located within the line of site of where they found the body of #RobertFuller and according to the sheriff’s department not a single camera is within this entire vicinity. In 2020? FOH #JusticeforRobertFuller pic.twitter.com/tF2DAAFm8H— Nathaniel Woods (@NPWJR) June 13, 2020
You’re telling me a black man hung himself in front of the biggest American flag in town, in front of city hall, around the corner from the sheriffs department, across from a fire department, no cameras & ruled it suicide same day? Yea... somethings not right #RobertFuller— Marina Preciado (@oxminaox) June 12, 2020
“The city said there were no outdoor cameras.” I counted four facing the tree where #RobertFuller was found in #palmdale. @palmdalesheriff, did you ask for the footage from Ochoa Digital? From Whispering Palms Apartments? pic.twitter.com/ncG5hiYZya— Billy Jensen (@Billyjensen) June 13, 2020