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California officials probe 2 separate hanging deaths of Black men

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – As the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department launched an investigation into the hanging death of a Black man in Palmdale, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said on Saturday there were no indications of foul play in the hanging death of another Black man in Victorville last month.

Palmdale is about 60 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles. Victorville is about 50 miles east of Palmdale.

San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Jodi Miller said deputies responded around 7 a.m. on May 31 to a report of a man who hanged himself near a homeless encampment in Victorville. He was later identified as 38-year-old Malcolm Harsch.

“A death investigation is being conducted,” Miller wrote in an email to The Desert Sun. “There were no indications at the scene that suggested foul play. The cause and manner of death are pending.”

In a statement, Harsch’s family said they were concerned that the investigation was taking a long time and said they regarded his death as suspicious.

“He didn’t seem to be depressed to anyone who truly knew him,” the family said. “Everyone who knew our brother was shocked to hear that he allegedly hung himself and don’t believe it to be true as well as the people who were there when his body was discovered.

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

According to the family, a deputy called to confirm the death and said a USB cord was used in the hanging.

The sheriff’s department did not provide more details about the incident.

In a statement, Harsch’s family said his body was found hanging from a 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 family said.

Fuller’s death has generated intense scrutiny, especially after nationwide protests rebuking the police killing of Floyd.

On Saturday, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Palmdale, a city of 150,000, marching from the park where Fuller’s body was found to the sheriff’s station. Many carried signs that said “Justice for Robert Fuller.”

More than 100,000 people signed an online petition demanding a full investigation into Fuller’s death. Community members confronted city officials at a contentious news briefing Friday, asking why they were quick to label his death a suicide and demanding an independent autopsy.

“I have doubts about what happened,” Marisela Barajas, who went to the press conference and joined a crowd gathered at the tree where Fuller’s body was found, told the Los Angeles Times.

“All alone, in front of the City Hall – it’s more like a statement,” she said. “Even if it was a suicide, that in itself is kind of a statement

Lt. Kelly Yagerlener of the L.A. County medical examiner-coroner’s office said a decision on the cause of death is deferred pending an investigation. A full autopsy is planned.

A Los Angeles County supervisor, state senator and state assembly member on Saturday called on the state attorney general to investigate the death.

Palmdale residents demanded surveillance video around the time and place where Fuller’s body was found. The city said there were no outdoor cameras, and video recorders on a nearby traffic signal could not have captured what happened.

L.A. Sheriff’s Capt. Ron Shaffer said homicide detectives were investigating the circumstances leading to Fuller’s death to determine if foul play was involved. He urged members of the public to contact detectives if they have relevant information, particularly about where Fuller had been and who he had been with in recent weeks.

Palmdale officials wrote in a statement that investigators have been in contact with Fuller’s family.

KPCC-FM reported that at the march Saturday, Fuller’s sister Diamond Alexander insisted her brother was not suicidal.

Robert was a good little brother to us and it’s like everything they have been telling us has not been right … and we just want to know the truth,” she said.

Shane Newell reports for the Palm Springs Desert Sun

Contributing: The Victorville Daily Press; the Associated Press 

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/06/13/california-officials-probe-2-separate-hanging-deaths-black-men/3185833001/

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