LOS ANGELES (AP) — An attorney for the family of a Black man found hanging from a tree last month in a Southern California city park did not dispute on Friday investigators' finding that the death was a suicide.
The family of Robert Fuller was absorbing the findings and grieving, attorney Jamon R. Hicks said at a news conference.
“While the family is still struggling with these initial reports, we have not found any information to suggest foul play,” Hicks said. “I have no information to suggest that anything was racially motivated.”
Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives on Thursday said a more thorough examination of Fuller's death found a history of mental illness and suicidal thoughts.
The manner of Fuller’s death on June 10 in Palmdale intensified the racial angst already at a boiling point following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Family members said they couldn’t imagine Fuller, 24, taking his own life and community activists noted the Antelope Valley area north of Los Angeles where the death occurred has a history of racist incidents.
Outrage over the initial conclusion that Fuller killed himself led to a full autopsy and broader investigation that was monitored by the FBI and state attorney general’s office.
Fuller had been hospitalized at least three times since 2017 and told doctors he was considering taking his life, Cmdr. Chris Marks said Thursday in announcing the results of the probe.
While being treated for depression at a Nevada hospital in November Fuller disclosed "he did have a plan to kill himself,” Marks said. Las Vegas police investigated an incident in February in which Fuller “allegedly tried to light himself on fire,” Marks said.
Hicks said the family was not aware of significant mental health issues that would have led Fuller to harm himself.
No witnesses or video of the death were found and there was no suicide note.
A red rope consistent with the one at the death site was purchased a month earlier at a Dollar Tree store with a public assistance benefits card registered to Fuller, Marks said.
Fuller’s hands were not bound and there was no sign of a struggle or other wounds. He wore a hat and backpack, and had a knife in a pocket, Marks said.
While Marks said prominent scars on Fuller’s left wrist were consistent with “suicidal intent," Hicks said his investigation revealed Fuller was "what's called a cutter.”
“He was likely a person that would cut himself to relieve pain,” Hicks said. “We were not able to ever confirm that he ever cut himself in a fashion to" die by suicide.
Hicks said the autopsy conducted by an independent pathologist reached most of the same conclusions as the county coroner.
Fuller’s family and friends described him as a peacemaker who loved music and video games, and mostly stayed to himself.
Racism has plagued Palmdale for years. Community members have described seeing Confederate flags in the desert city and wider Antelope Valley, and residents of color have been blamed for crime and gang problems.
The Sheriff’s Department has also contributed to racial tension and the county reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2015 regarding accusations deputies harassed and discriminated against Black and Latino people.
A week after Fuller’s death, his half-brother, Terron J. Boone, was fatally shot by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies. Police say Boone opened fire on deputies as they were about to arrest him on charges that he beat his girlfriend and held her captive. Authorities said detectives do not believe Boone’s case is related to Fuller’s death.
Fuller was the second Black man recently found hanged in Southern California. Malcolm Harsch, a 38-year-old homeless man, was found in a tree on May 31 in Victorville, a desert city in San Bernardino County east of Palmdale.
Publicity surrounding Fuller’s case prompted Harsch’s family to seek further investigation. Detectives found surveillance footage that “confirmed the absence of foul play,” authorities said. The family was shown the video and accepted the finding of suicide.
Hicks said it was a “very difficult" to relay the Sheriff's Department findings to the grieving family as they were making funeral arrangements for Boone. He said he hoped something could be learned from it.
“Let's use this experience to bring further attention to the devastating impact that mental illness can have on someone,” Hicks said. "The Fuller family hopes that another family does not have to experience this type of tragedy.”
AP reporters John Antczak, Stefanie Dazio and Christopher Weber contributed.