The FBI and the Department of Justice are reviewing the investigations into the deaths of two Black men who were found hanging from trees 10 days apart and about 50 miles from each other in California.
Robert Fuller, 24, was found dead in Palmdale on June 10, while Malcolm Harsch, 38, died on May 31 in Victorville.
The FBI and the DOJ's Civil Rights Division announced Monday that they were "actively reviewing" the investigations into the hanging deaths of Fuller and Harsch "to determine whether there are violations of federal law."
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told CNN on Tuesday that his office was also independently monitoring and assessing the investigation into Fuller's death and communicating with Victorville authorities about Harsch.
A spokesperson for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, which is investigating Harsch's death, told BuzzFeed News that they intend to share "investigative details" with the FBI and the California DOJ "so they can compare to the Palmdale incident."
Los Angeles County authorities had earlier indicated that Fuller's death appeared to be a suicide, prompting public outcry from family members and local and state officials.
"This investigation is of great concern to the community, not only in Palmdale but throughout the nation," Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Monday. "It means a lot to a lot of people because of the social unrest and concerns about the actions of police in light of the tragic murder of George Floyd."
Los Angeles County Chief Medical Examiner Jonathan Lucas said Fuller's death initially appeared to be consistent with a suicide, "but we felt it prudent to roll that back and continue to look deeper."
Lucas said that at the time of Fuller's death, there was "lack of evidence" and "no information" to suggest that there was any foul play. However, there has been no official determination of suicide yet as officials await results from toxicology tests and look into Fuller's medical history, he added.
"Initially, there wasn't any evidence or information that led us to believe there was anything other than a suicide," Lucas said. "That changed. We felt better that we should look into it a little more deeply and carefully considering all the circumstances at play."
He added that "hangings in public, suicides, do occur with some regularity."
Authorities said there was no stool or chair found near Fuller's body, and that they only found the rope that was used for the hanging, the contents of his pockets, and a backpack that he wearing.
Investigators are now conducting a forensic analysis of the rope, as well as canvassing the area for any surveillance or home videos from the scene.
"We really want to find out the truth of what really happened," Fuller's sister, Diamond Alexander, said during a rally on Saturday. "Everything that they've been telling us has not been right. ... My brother was not suicidal. He wasn't."
In Harsch's case, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office said they received a 911 call from his girlfriend on May 31 that he had hanged himself at a homeless encampment in Victorville. She said that she and Harsch were together in the morning, but she had returned to her tent when others in the encampment informed her that Harsch had been found hanging from a tree.
People in the encampment performed CPR on Harsch before deputies arrived to take over and continue efforts to revive him, authorities said. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
"The Victorville police department has been attempting to report his death as a suicide to the family," Harsch's sister, Harmonie Harsch, said in a Facebook post. "Mr. Harsch’s family is looking for answers! These hangings of Black men in such close perimeter, all ruled suicide cannot be coincidental!"
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org. You can also text TALK to 741741 for free, anonymous 24/7 crisis support in the US from the Crisis Text Line.