Video shows Malcolm Harsch of Victorville was not lynched, but hanged himself

By BRIAN ROKOS | brokos@scng.com | The Press-Enterprise

A Black man whose hanging death in Victorville on May 31 prompted concerns that he had been lynched actually died by suicide, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said Friday, June 19.

Sheriff’s officials played for reporters a video from a nearby vacant building that showed Malcolm Harsch, 38, wrapping a blue electronics cable around his neck, tying the ends to a tree limb and then letting himself fall.

The tree, rustling for several minutes before it became still, was adjacent to the tents where he and a former girlfriend lived.

Harsch had been on suicide watch in two of his recent bookings in San Bernardino County jails on suspicion of minor crimes, Sgt. Steve Allen said.

 Then just past dawn May 31, Allen said, Harsch and his girlfriend broke up amid mutual allegations of infidelity. They argued, and the video showed Harsch throwing donuts at her tent.

Minutes later, with the woman still in her tent and another transient apparently watching, Harsch hanged himself just after 6 a.m.

No one summoned help for Harsch until just after 7 a.m., when the woman emerged from the tent, grabbed a man’s phone and called 911, Allen said.

Harsch’s brother, Ft. Irwin soldier D’Avery Richardson, viewed the video at the Victorville sheriff’s station Thursday and showed it via Zoom to his two sisters in Ohio, Allen said.

A spokesman for the family issued a statement on Friday. “On behalf of the family of Malcolm Harsch  unfortunately it seems he did take his own life,” said the spokesman, Najee Ali.

A Black man whose hanging death in Victorville on May 31 prompted concerns that he had been lynched actually died by suicide, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said Friday, June 19.

Sheriff’s officials played for reporters a video from a nearby vacant building that showed Malcolm Harsch, 38, wrapping a blue electronics cable around his neck, tying the ends to a tree limb and then letting himself fall.

The tree, rustling for several minutes before it became still, was adjacent to the tents where he and a former girlfriend lived.

Harsch had been on suicide watch in two of his recent bookings in San Bernardino County jails on suspicion of minor crimes, Sgt. Steve Allen said.

 Then just past dawn May 31, Allen said, Harsch and his girlfriend broke up amid mutual allegations of infidelity. They argued, and the video showed Harsch throwing donuts at her tent.

Minutes later, with the woman still in her tent and another transient apparently watching, Harsch hanged himself just after 6 a.m.

No one summoned help for Harsch until just after 7 a.m., when the woman emerged from the tent, grabbed a man’s phone and called 911, Allen said.

Harsch’s brother, Ft. Irwin soldier D’Avery Richardson, viewed the video at the Victorville sheriff’s station Thursday and showed it via Zoom to his two sisters in Ohio, Allen said.

A spokesman for the family issued a statement on Friday. “On behalf of the family of Malcolm Harsch  unfortunately it seems he did take his own life,” said the spokesman, Najee Ali.

“The Victorville Police Department officials released new video evidence to family members,” Ali said. “The family wants to sincerely thank everyone for their support and prayers.”

Authorities initially said no foul play was suspected in Harsch’s death. But family members and others were skeptical. Roughly 200 people gathered outside Victorville City Hall on Tuesday to demand a thorough investigation and police accountability for using deadly force in other cases.

Harsch’s death came a week before another Black man, Robert Fuller, was found dead near Poncitlán Square, just east of Palmdale City Hall. Fuller’s death was also a hanging and was initially described by officials as a suspected suicide. Coroner’s investigators have yet to rule on a final cause of death pending the investigation and toxicology results.

In a news conference on Monday, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said there wasn’t any evidence the deaths were linked, but that his detectives would talk with San Bernardino County detectives.

The investigations into what some people worry were lynchings came amid protests nationwide about racial and social justice after the May 25 death of a Black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis police custody. The four officers involved in the arrest were fired and charged with crimes.

The coroner’s official finding of the cause of Harsch’s death is pending the results of a toxicology test.

Allen said investigators planned to do a large-scale probe even if protesters had not demanded one because there were reports of blood on Harsch’s shirt. Those turned out to be spots of his own blood, Allen said a DNA test confirmed.

Also, Allen said, the Sheriff’s Department does not normally share so much information about a suicide, but did so in this case because of public concerns.

“What I’m trying to prevent is any violent protests in the name of Malcolm,” he said.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: