Family Demanding Answers After Black Florida Man Is Found Dead by Hanging in Park
Ben Crump / Twitter
Family members and community leaders are calling for responses and a new investigation after a black man was found dead in Florida last week - despite authorities insisting they have "exhausted all leads" in the suicide case.
According to the Orlando Police Department, 22-year-old Nevan Baker was found dead on a tree in George Barker Park just after 3:30 a.m. on October 5. Although authorities were quick to label the tragedy as suicide, family and community leaders have pushed it forward for closer investigation, fearing that Baker's death reflects a national spate of mysterious hanging deaths as racial tensions continue to mount after George Floyd's death in Minneapolis.
"We're not saying mental health isn't real. We're not saying suicides don't happen," community activist Miles Mulrain Jr. said at the memorial service for Baker on Sunday at sunset, the Orlando Sentinel reported. "We say that The problem is that it is hard to take it easy when a black person is hanging from a tree. Without a thorough investigation, it cannot be immediately called suicide. "
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Another family friend, who chose to remain anonymous, told The Daily Beast that the 22-year-old's relatives do not believe his death was a suicide and are calling for a further - and more thorough - investigation into whether it was a foul or another person acts. However, an Orlando Police Department spokesman told The Daily Beast that an "exhaustion of all evidence" investigation revealed that Baker's death was a "tragic suicide."
"We want the police to reopen the case and show us if there is a video of Nevan's final moments," said the family friend, adding that Baker never raised any indications of suicidal thoughts. "He wouldn't just kill himself. We want justice and demand answers."
According to an Orlando Police Department case report, officers responded to a call that a man was hanging from a tree in George Barker Park early October 5th. At the scene, the officers tried to help Baker, one grabbed him "by the lower half," "While his two colleagues cut a white rope to bring him to the ground. The report says that once Baker was on the ground, officers could not find a pulse. Authorities later said the investigation found no "evidence of bad play or any type of physical combat".
While authorities at the doctor's office have ruled Baker's death a suicide, his mother, Sharhonda James, told the Orlando Sentinel that she noticed injuries to her son's nose, forehead, and jaw when she identified him at the morgue. James added that she asked the police to show her photos and videos of the scene.
"My son didn't hang himself. I know my child," James told the Sentinel. "We're not going to let this go. The community won't let go of that. "
The incident caught the attention of Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney who represents the families of Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and is implicated in other cases that have rekindled national protests against police brutality and racism. In a Sunday tweet, Crump stressed Baker's "hands were tied, teeth were missing and the face was injured" before calling for "transparency and a full investigation so we know exactly what happened!"
Crump's claims were also confirmed at a Sunday memorial service in Barker Park, where dozens of people gathered at sunset to light candles and talk about the 22-year-old aspiring to become an electrician. The Orlando Police Department claims, however, that the tragic incident was thoroughly investigated - and correctly determined a suicide.
“We saw social media posts about a man who was found dead in Barker Park. This is a tragic suicide case and it is difficult for investigators to discuss details publicly out of respect for the privacy of the victim and that of his family, "police said in a statement. "The coroner has also investigated and ruled the cause of death as suicide. Our detectives continue to support the victim's family where they can. We keep the victim, his family and friends on our minds during this difficult time."
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Baker's death comes after a slew of summer deaths, including Robert Fuller, the 24-year-old who was hanging from a tree in a park near Palmdale Town Hall in Southern California on June 10. Authorities immediately considered it suicide and city officials attributed it to the emotional distress caused by the coronavirus pandemic - though alarmed residents and family members questioned the hasty conclusion.
The Department of Justice and the FBI are also investigating Fuller's death after Los Angeles County officials withdrew their original testimony on the case. Jonathan Lucas, the chief medical examiner, told reporters in July that Fuller's death was classified as suicide after his office found no immediate evidence of murder.
"Initially, there was no evidence or information to lead us to believe there was anything other than suicide," Lucas said. "We felt better if we were to go into it a little deeper and more carefully, just taking all circumstances into account."
If you or a loved one is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by sending TALK to 741741.
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