Race & Justice

Two Black Men in Two CA High Desert Towns Found Hanging From Trees. Suicide? Or Lynching?

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

On Monday afternoon Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva held a virtual press conference to announce that his department was initiating a “thorough” investigation of the death of Robert Fuller,” the 24-year-old Black man who was found hanging from a tree at about 3:40 a.m. on Wednesday, June 10, in a park across the street from the Palmdale, CA, city hall.

In the course of his press even, Sheriff Villanueva, along with Captain Kent Wegener from LASD Homicide, and Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Jonathan Lucas, performed an energetic rewind of department officials’ original pronouncement that the young man’s hanging death a suicide, and that there was no indication of foul play.

Activist Najee Ali at Robert Fuller protest/via Facebook

In the days that followed Fuller’s death, family and friends became less and less satisfied with the LASD’s conclusion.

“My brother was not suicidal,” said Fuller’s sister, Diamond Alexander at a weekend rally. “My brother was a survivor.”

But, it wasn’t just the family who felt that way, said activist Najee Ali, who has met with the Fuller family and others in the Palmdale area, and has helped organize the ongoing live-cast rallies for Fuller, which have continued to get larger.

“Family members can’t help but be biased,” Ali told WitnessLA. “They’ve lost a loved one.” But he found it persuasive to hear from others who knew Fuller, he said, such as a teacher who told news reporters that she knew him from high school and, like his family, found the idea of suicide out of character.

Najee said he also has his own contacts in the area, such as neighbors and others, several of whom called him to say that they knew Fuller, that he was a “great kid,” with no obvious signs of trouble.

One store owner Najee Ali knew said he saw Fuller “regularly” and just did not buy the suicide.

“This kid was a gamer. He was a nerd.” He graduated from high school and went to college. And while these details prove nothing, the consensus, according to Najee Ali, was that Fuller didn’t seem at all troubled or depressive.

Fuller’s best friend Tommie Anderson told Fox 11 News that there seemed to be the desire to “put it on mental issues, it was depression. No,” she said. “It was a young black man who was hung in a tree.”

On Saturday, June 13, things began to heat up further on the Fuller case, when Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger wrote to California’s Attorney General Xavier Beccera and asked him to “conduct an independent investigation into the death of Mr. Robert Fuller who was discovered hanging from a tree in the City of Palmdale.”

She was later joined by state Sen. Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita and Assemblyman Tom Lackey of Palmdale.

Then, by early Sunday night, Sheriff Villanueva had announced Monday’s 11 a.m. press event. where he reassured everyone that the department would “leave no stone unturned,” in the investigation of Fuller’s “apparent suicide.”

The sheriff also said he’d spoken to Attorney General Becerra, who would be monitoring the LASD’s investigation, not running it.  Although a statement from the AG’s office suggested that his team may also engage in its own probe.

In addition, the sheriff said he spoke to a Special Agent in charge at the local FBI office, and that their civil rights division would also be monitoring the department’s investigation of Fuller’s death.

LASD homicide’s Wegener said detectives would do forensics “on the rope involved,” and on the knots that were used, and other elements of that nature. They would talk to the witness who found him, and to those who’d seen Fuller in the past few days. Plus they were hoping to find some sort of video from the surrounding area that might have caught what happened.

Dr. Lucas said the coroner’s office has completed Fuller’s autopsy but is awaiting toxicology results, Lucas said. Investigators are also looking at Fuller’s medical history and planning to interview his “caseworker,” although no one explained why such a caseworker existed in the young man’s life.


Deadly coincidence?

Matters have become far more painful with the news that Robert Fuller was the second Southern California Black man in less than two weeks to be found dead and hanging from a tree in what local officials initially labeled a suicide, until friends and family members refused to accept that conclusion without a very thorough investigation.

More Palmdale demonstrations for Robert Fuller/Facebook

The death of Malcolm Harsch was discovered at around 7 a.m., on May 31, 2020, after a local resident called 911 and the Victorville City Fire Department was dispatched to an area that was near a homeless encampment and about 100 yards from the Victorville City Library.

Others at the camp reportedly found Harsch hanging from a tree, got him down, and attempted to revive him,  according to investigators from the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department.

“There were no indications at the scene that suggested foul play,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Jodi Miller told reporters from the local Victor Valley News when the news first broke. “However, the cause and manner of death are still pending.”

As with Fuller, Harsch’s family members were confused and dumbfounded by the news.

“As most of us are in Ohio, we weren’t able to physically go to the location where he was found dead,” said Malcolm Harsch’s family, which released a collective statement to the press and public. “We did speak to a few people who were around at the time of the discovery. We were told that his 6 foot 3 inches long body wasn’t even dangling from the tree. There was blood on his shirt, but there didn’t appear to be any physical implications at the scene to suggest that there was a struggle or any visible open wounds at that time.

“The explanation of suicide does not seem plausible,” the family wrote. “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.”

Harsch’s body reportedly remained at the San Bernardino County Coroner for 12 days before an autopsy was finally performed.

Now, however, the FBI and the California Attorney General’s office are working with investigators in Los Angeles County and in San Bernardino County to determine if there’s a link between Harsch’s death in Victorville and Robert Fuller’s death in Palmdale, according to SBSD spokesperson Miller.

Najee Ali and other community leaders have scheduled a rally in Victorville on Tuesday afternoon to make sure a strong focus stays on Malcolm Harsch’s death along with Robert Fuller’s in order “to make sure the truth is found.”

What bother’s me the most, Ali said, is that in both cases the law enforcement agency involved “assumed it was suicide before they had begun an investigation.”


The history of terror lynchings

It is, of course, possible that one or both of the two men killed themselves.

Yet, given the timing of the deaths of Robert Fuller and Malcolm Harsch, and given Black Americans’ history of being murdered via lynching, whatever the investigations produce, it cannot help but be devastating.

The Equal Justice Initiative — a non-profit organization launched by civil rights attorney and author of the stellar and best selling book, Just Mercy — provides legal representation to people who have been illegally convicted, unfairly sentenced, or abused in state jails and prisons.

In 2010, EJI also began documenting the more than 4400 of what they describe as “racial terror lynchings” in the United States during the period between Reconstruction and World War II.

EJI uses the term terror lynching to differentiate it from any other kind of lynching that took place in the U.S.

“The lynching of African Americans was terrorism,” according to Stevenson, “a widely supported campaign to enforce racial subordination and segregation.”

This research ultimately produced Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror

The 2015 report, along with a national Memorial for Peace and Justice, constructed on a six-acre site atop a rise overlooking Montgomery,  according to Stevenson and EGI, is intended to attempt to start a conversation to confront the injustice, inequality, anguish, and suffering that racial terror and violence exemplified by lynchings created.

“Mass incarceration, excessive penal punishment, disproportionate sentencing of racial minorities, and police abuse of people of color, ” writes Stevenson, “reveal problems in American society that were framed in the terror era. The narrative of racial difference that lynching dramatized continues to haunt us.”

These two deaths, whatever the investigations produce, are surely additional evidence of that haunting.


Continuing racial intolerance

The perception that something may have gone terribly wrong in the high desert can also not help but be affected by the findings of a 2013 U.S. Department of Justice investigation into race-related problems at two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s stations in Lancaster and Palmdale.

“Racial intolerance is an unfortunate part of the history of the Antelope Valley,” wrote then-Assistant U.S.  Attorney General Thomas E. Perez in the investigation’s introduction  “As of 2010, the Antelope Valley had the highest rate of hate crimes of any region in Los Angeles County.”

37 Comments

  • Det Wegener from LASD Homicide said additional tests and searching for witnesses would be conducted. Correct me if Im wrong but shouldn’t that all have been done already prior to reaching a conclusion? How did they firm an opinion without conducting a thorough investigation. I guess times have changed.

    • Bandwagon,

      FYI- Wegener is the Captain of Homicide, not a detective – a solid dude with a distinguished career. Since you asked to be corrected, here you go: LASD released tentative findings in the Fuller case, not final findings. Within a short period of time, detectives are able to assess crime scenes and come up with pretty solid working theories at homicide scenes. Detectives are always quick to follow leads that may take them in another direction, though.

      The family and the neighborhood interlopers have made this a spectacle and will likely be embarrassed by the findings, which they will vehemently dispute.

  • Some key points in this story by Celeste:

    “On Saturday, June 13, things began to heat up further on the Fuller case, when Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger wrote to California’s Attorney General Xavier Beccera and asked him to “conduct an independent investigation into the death of Mr. Robert Fuller who was discovered hanging from a tree in the City of Palmdale.”

    Then, by early Sunday night, Sheriff Villanueva had announced Monday’s 11 a.m. press event. where he reassured everyone that the department would “leave no stone unturned,” in the investigation of Fuller’s “apparent suicide.”

    The sheriff also said he’d spoken to Attorney General Becerra, who would be monitoring the LASD’s investigation, not running it. Although a statement from the AG’s office suggested that his team may also engage in its own probe.”

    So basically, AV tried as hard as he could to ignore what was happening up in the “A.V.” until Supervisor Barger demonstrated the necessary leadership to address the concerns of the family and community by requesting an outside review and assistance from the State AG. Then suddenly Mr. Transparent announces, a day late and a dollar short, that HE is requesting the AG and the FBI to monitor his work. What a Clown!

    News flash Lt. Villanueva, you could have used the Inspector General and the Civilian Oversight Commission to cover for you with the community if you hadn’t “screwed that pooch” already, as Alex likes to say.

    Lastly, the only thing missing from that ridiculously run Virtual Town Hall conference call, complete with wrongly advertised access codes so no one could listen in, coupled with dropped calls, dropped signals, dead air, no one knowing who should answer certain questions, and Alex trying to use up most of the limited time with his prewritten statements was the “Circus Clown” background music.

    Sheriff V = Failed Leadership at every level.

    BTW Alex, the FBI is already monitoring YOU!

    • It’s leadership to fear public reaction when they disagree with findings from world-class detectives and coroner investigators? Do you think CA DOJ or the FBI Civil Rights units have ANY experience with death investigations? LOL

      This was done purely to appease the AV people who cried “lynching.”

      • Yo Dose,

        I agree it’s all appeasement and I also believe this whole event is what it appears to be. A suicide, plain and simple. The issue is how incompetent Alex let it spiral out of control into a national news story by failing to recognize the possible significance of a Black man found hanging from a tree during this current climate. WTF over? Such sage foresight on displace by the fake five star circle jerk.

        But what else are we to expect from the current LASD of Skipper Execs? One just has to be reminded of how the Kobe Bryant crash photos scandal became a national news story and MAJOR lawsuit.

        Viva Allie & BiBi!

      • Exactly!!! LASD homicide is very good at what they do, if they said suicide initially also my with coroners office, my guess is it is. Don’t think with the optics of it they would not have the proof. I hope they release it all to the public so the mob shuts up

        • Be careful when you caress and attest to the professionalism of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
          The policy and procedures of the Mitrice Richardson case were violated which began at Calabasas Sheriff Station (lies & coverup) and lastly when her body was removed before the coroner arrived.

          • “…And lastly when her body was removed before the coroner arrived.”

            Did LASD ever give an explanation for THAT, as it goes against every known protocol?

          • A further note:

            “Detectives on the case removed her body against the order of the coroner.”

            SOURCE: Wikipedia.

      • So here goes Villanueva desperate for TV time trying to validate his ” transparency” mantra. Is he trying to appease Rhonda Hampton because Assistant Sheriff VV told him to do so. Man he is the laughing stock of the County. Watching that presser made me puke!

        • So much for transparency attributed to LASD, thus the former Sheriff and the little man (Tanaka) who wanted to be Sheriff now serving prison terms.

          • @Clown Show. This is how enept and incapable AV and VV are viewed by contract cities. Multiple contract cities are working with McDonnell on crime prevention strategies and tactics. These aren’t cities in well to do Malibu, Calabasas, either. These are cities with Hispanic and ethnic mayors, city council and a mostly non white population.

  • Oh, no, stop the presses! Najee Ali is involved. We’re all saved by the multiple time convicted felon who has no visible means of support. He knows a store keeper who knew Fuller and doesn’t buy the suicide finding. That’s enough for me. LOL

    Detectives and coroner’s investigators have likely relied on some physical evidence to come to their tentative conclusion:

    Petechial hemorrhaging in his eyes was present
    Deep ligature marks that correspond to the rope on his neck
    Hands and/or feet not bound; no indication of removal of bindings
    No defensive wounds on hands
    No indication of pre-death trauma
    Presence of an elevation device (step stool, chair); alternately evidence of climbing the tree; broken neck from sudden tightening of rope that stopped him from hitting the ground

    Then there will be the forensic results from the coroner and labs. Will the family accept the results that will very likely indicate drugs in his system? Will Fuller’s DNA be on the rope, other than where his neck contacted it? Ali got one thing right: the family is biased. They desperately don’t want anybody to say Fuller was mentally ill. Suicide kind of gets in the way of that notion, so it was time to allege cover up by LASD.

    This reminds me of a semi-famous guy (forgot his name) who was convicted of federal crimes in the 1990s and was doing time in the LA Metropolitan Detention Center. He committed suicide by jumping off a top tier, but his family said it was a grand cover up by the federal government. Federal officials asked the family if they really wanted to see the surveillance video, a first for them, as the video inside the prison had always been considered to be confidential. Well, the family was shown the video and never heard from again, because it showed the man doing a swan dive off the top tier onto his head.

    There will likely be no such video in this case, so will anything ever be sufficient for this family? DOJ and FBI oversight? We all know that answer.

    As to pre-suicide indicators, people vary widely. Some reach out and seek help when they experience suicidal ideation. Some will cut their wrists superficially (hesitation marks) to cry out. Some take enough pills to just drift off in their sleep. Some use a gun, as they believe (falsely in some cases) that it is the quickest way out. Many will give no outward indication of their decision to commit suicide, even saying to people, “See you tomorrow,” when they know that ain’t going to happen. Not everybody leaves a detailed suicide note to explain their decision.

    Spoiler alert: word in LE circles is that there is plenty of information to show Fuller was mentally ill, so now that the family has made the situation a public spectacle, the information will become widely known.

    I personally hate suicide. It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem that hurts friends and family immeasurably. If he was such a good gamer, he could have joined the military and done electronic warfare (drones, etc.). An unfortunate waste of life.

  • The Lay of the Land:

    State Hwy 138 goes East-West and basically connects I-15 on the East to I-5 on the West. Just West of the San Bernardino County line State Hwy 18 branches off from 138, goes through Victorville, through the desert, up the east end of the San Bernardino Mountains, through Big Bear, and at Crestline (a mountain community not unlike Wrightwood or Idyllwild) Hwy 138 terminates into Hwy 18, which goes down into downtown San Bernardino.

    From Palmdale to Victorville 138/18 is straight-as-an-arrow two-lane road being converted into a four-lane expressway.

    In other words, a quick trip from Palmdale to Victorville.

  • Shouldn’t we wait for some kind of evidence before spinning narratives? Narratives that just happen to reenforce our bias, and then imagine that somehow this is going to bring down the people we hate, our petty little score will be settled, so all the destruction and chaos is worth it. (Now watch cf comment and prove my point) seems irresponsible to me though, real people are being hurt and no one cares.

  • The last know lynching of a black man was in 1981. Lynching in the last 40 yrs is non existent. Suicide by hanging, on the other hand, does occur regularly. Several recent studies and news reports have documented the dramatic increase in suicide rates of young black men. Strangulation is one of the typical methods of suicide. Your article goes into the history of lynching without outlining the recent trend of young black men killing themselves is irresponsible. You should be ashamed of yourself. Exploiting these deaths for political purposes, stoking racial hatred, how do you justify this?
    For those considering suicide, your pain will pass. Don’t do it. There is much to live for.

  • I am waiting for @cf to provide us with his analytical, self-indulgent, racist, ignorant rhetoric, LEO bashing, judgmental, mental acuity. Not to mention his incoherent, grammatically incorrect, dangling modifiers with run on sentences statements.

  • Fat Rolman, my apologies if I kept you waiting. I was working. Yes, I work, and its not with the government. I’m hurt that you think I am so rigid, so one-sided. And, for clarification, it was not my modifier that was dangling.

    On this one I will have to agree with my friend Madame Kong. It does seem irresponsible. I may be wrong, but I don’t think anyone in Palmdale or Lancaster or victorville lynched anyone. There is a story there about two dead black men, but to add more is irresponsible. It does a disservice to the family, and they get used by the likes of Najee Ali. And then, when it turns out it was suicide, my racist friends on this site will point it out and take it as more evidence that blacks play victims or that black tragedy gets more attention. They may be poor in those towns, and there a few rednecks, but you also see the white girls with black boys. Madame Kong, you are right on this one.

    And, I hate to say this, but Dope of Reality makes a good point. Najee Ali?! Who died and made this man the spokespersons for all things black. To combine Madame Kong and Dope’s comments, it is irresponsible to give this brother too much credit and publicity.

    My liberal friends do not know best and parade the likes as spokespersons, doing the black community a disservice because the message gets lost with the messenger, especially with a messenger like this one. The movement if bigger and chaotic. Just like the folks Celeste paraded the other day, Alberto Retana and Charise Bremon. I doubt they were out on the streets, but my liberal friends then push them to the forefront and anoint them as spokesperson because they are “safer” than the actual folks on the street. The kids in the streets do not care about Rev Jesse, Rev Al, Najee Ali, Retana or Charise. In fact, they probably do not even know who they are. White people do. Celeste, I know you can do better.

    • CF,

      Welcome to the right side of things. Liberal or not, you were dialed in today. I hope nobody hijacked your username. 😉 Now all you have to do is quit changing our usernames to be insulting and sparring with you will be enjoyable.

      You have no idea how right you are about Jesse and the others having no respect in the hood. I had the distinguished honor of being on a protection detail for him about 22 or so years ago. The men HATED him but the ladies loved him.

      • Looks like our little buddy may be having some kind of crisis. He’s in a LASD Facebook Group and changed his user name to “mark” something. He has been posting nonsensical stuff (usually sexual in nature) non stop. It’s pretty awkward and no one is responding, so he’s probably freaking out a little over something. The last time he had an episode like this he got into a single car traffic accident and disappeared for awhile. He’s a strange little man.

  • The indictment of Atlanta Police Officer Rolfe may well be a watershed moment for law enforcement in this country. It has already started with officers in Atlanta calling in sick and not answering calls for service. I think this will spread to other law enforcement agencies throughout the country. We can all thank the liberal press and bigoted black politicians who continue to play the race card in an attempt for power. Shameful!

  • CF: This is what’s happens when BLM attempts to take their show on the road to neighborhoods that don’t agree with their views or agenda. Like I said people WILL
    protect themselves, their families, and property regardless of the police responding

    https://news.google.com/articles/CBMiggFodHRwczovL3d3dy51c2F0b2RheS5jb20vc3RvcnkvbmV3cy9uYXRpb24vMjAyMC8wNi8xNy9iZXRoZWwtb2hpby1wcm90ZXN0cy1ibGFjay1saXZlcy1tYXR0ZXItbWVldHMtc21hbGwtdG93bi1hbWVyaWNhLzMyMDc4NDIwMDEv0gEnaHR0cHM6Ly9hbXAudXNhdG9kYXkuY29tL2FtcC8zMjA3ODQyMDAx?hl=en-US&gl=US&ceid=US%3Aen

  • Can’t wait until the truth comes out about what Fuller had done… let’s just say a lot of people are gonna want their gofundme money refunded. Also, he bought the rope he hung himself with using his EBT welfare card.

  • Reminds me of the horrible attempted lynching of Jussie Smollett. Seems there are lynchings EVERYWHERE nowadays, and RACISM is EVERYWHERE…Oh my GAWD!! Black men are being HUNTED by RACIST cops!

    Oh, wait…..yeah….none of that is happening.

    I have to hand it to blacks though, they’ve managed to, with the media’s help, convince everyone, including their guilt-ridden white partners, that the same group responsible for an overwhelming amount of crime are actually the VICTIMS of society.

  • Malcolm Harsch Committed suicide. There’s video footage and his family watched it and confirmed. Please either update your inflammatory article, or take it down. You’re part of the problem.

    • @Beth
      Exactly….where is the retraction from Witnessla. Liberal media lies with impunity. I suspect very soon we will also find out that the fuller case was a suicide. Homicide detectives called it what it is and that was not good enough for the board of supervisors and asked for the Attorney General and FBI. I hope the next time an Asian American, White American, Hispanic American commits suicide that the board of supervisors throws equal resources at that case……

      • Not only will you find out it was 100 percent a suicide… you will find out many other details that will leave you shaking your head…. and again, leave many looking for gofundme refunds!!

        Liberal media makes it living with headlines… they rely on people not reading past the first 3 sentences.

  • Gotta love Najee whatever his name is. His quote of unfortunately this appears to be a suicide….very transparent Osama Ali. Or wait, Najee sorry.
    Very transparent by his use of words. Unfortunately I cannot continue to race bait and stir up black feelings of victimization and lining my pockets with the fruits of racial divide.
    We know what you mean. He will find another unfortunate circumstance to leach on. Same old tired routine by the same over played clowns.

    • Per your last sentence, ditto to the tenth power concerning dirty cops.

      No need for a laundry list to describe dirt as you already know.

      Without cell phones and dash/body cams, Chauvin would have been another cop who got away with murder.

  • I am reading this late but i feel like the surveillance video that shows malcom do this to him self

    This was a sad thing that happened but the media exploited these families to push their own agenda.
    Of course the families didnt think it was a suicide. Thats the first stage of grief. These reporters know that but simply dont care bc it fit the narrative and they know enough people will read this believe it forget the names or never follow up and thats all they really need in the first place.

  • Dontspeakforme,

    You were dialed in on the EBT card angle. Fuller had mental health issues, in spite of the family denying such, and killed himself. He had a history of schizophrenia, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts (self immolation).

    Case closed.

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