PALMDALE — After nearly a month of investigating, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s homicide detectives came to the same conclusion as they did initially: that a Black man found hanging in a tree near City Hall committed suicide.
Sheriff officials announced their findings and how they arrived at them Thursday afternoon, 29 days after 24-year-old Robert Fuller was found dead.
“We promised from the beginning we’d be very thorough, do a complete investigation start to finish,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Thursday in a press conference presenting the results of the investigation. “These things do not happen overnight.”
According to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, a passerby found Fuller’s body hanging from a tree in Poncitlán Square, across from Palmdale City Hall, at around 3:39 a.m. June 10. Homicide investigators initially termed his death a suicide, based on the evidence at the scene, but there was no official cause of death determined at the time.
The death drew protests by hundreds of people who felt it was too quickly and erroneously judged to be suicide, and calls for a full investigation. The state Attorney General and FBI were asked to monitor the investigation, as well.
On Thursday, the coroner officially declared Fuller’s death to be by suicide.
Commander Chris Marks of the Detective Division described the evidence at the scene which led investigators to believe the death was suicide.
Fuller was suspended by his neck with a braided rope and a piece of fabric, both tied to branches above him in more than one spot, accessible only from within the tree. His hands were not bound, Marks said.
The tree itself was easily accessible and climbable for someone of Fuller’s age and stature. No one else was seen in the area.
Fuller’s appearance was neat and clean, and he wore a hat and a backpack. He carried a fixed-blade knife in his pants pocket. There was no sign of struggle or defensive wounds, or that he had tried to remove the rope from around his neck, Marks said.
Investigators did note scars on Fullers’ wrists consistent with suicide attempts.
A full autopsy was requested June 12 and subsequently performed.
During a meeting June 12 with family members, one family member told investigators about possible prior mental health treatment for Fuller.
After that, the death was termed a suicide, Marks said.
As part of the ensuing investigation, investigators searched the neighborhood around the park for video of the site — there are no cameras in the park or aimed there from the city buildings. One video was located that showed a portion of 9th Street East, but it did not show Fuller or anyone else at that time.
Detectives discovered a red rope like the one found on Fuller was purchased on May 14 using his electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card at a Dollar Store, but the video of the purchase no longer existed.
Tests on the rope and Fuller’s fingernails for DNA found his was predominant on both, Marks said.
Investigators found Fuller had a history of mental health treatment for suicidal thoughts in Arizona and California in recent years, as well as spending some time in a homeless shelter in Las Vegas. In February, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department investigated a case in which Fuller allegedly tried to light himself on fire, Marks said.
A spokesperson for Fuller’s family said they had no comment about the investigation Thursday, but might in the future.
Fuller’s family cooperated with investigators, Lt. Brandon Dean of the Homicide Division said.
Investigators found no connection between Fuller’s death and that of his half-brother Terron Boone, 31, who was fatally shot by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies in Rosamond June 17 after allegedly opening fire as he exited a car.
The investigation into Boone was in no way connected to Fuller, Dean said.
Palmdale city officials on Thursday afternoon said they had not been contacted by Villanueva nor anyone else from the Sheriff’s Department regarding the details of the investigation.
They were among those calling for the state Attorney General to provide an independent investigation of Fuller’s death, and said Thursday they are awaiting the Attorney General’s report on the matter.
The city also supported Fuller’s family’s request for an independent autopsy.
“It is our intent to continue to work with Mr. Fuller’s family as we await those results and to defer further comment until that time,” officials said in a City of Palmdale statement provided to the media.
Villanueva called on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to “properly fund mental health treatment centers, psychiatric beds and facilities because they’re always running over crowded, insufficient.”
“It’s always a problem with our mental health evaluation teams that we do not have resources to provide care for all the ones who desperately need it. This is an example why,” he said.