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Civil rights attorney Ben Crump is calling for an investigation after Florida police ruled the death of a Black man found hanging from tree as a suicide. 

The family of the man also wants more information, the Orlando Sentinel reported, though the police department has said it has “exhausted all leads” in the case and found no evidence of foul play.

Nevan Baker, 22, was found just after 3:30 a.m. on Oct. 5 after police were called to a park by a person who reported seeing a man hanging from a tree, according to a case report from the Orlando Police Department. 

Three officers at the scene tried to help Baker, according to the report. One officer grabbed Baker “by the lower half” while the other two cut a white rope in order to get Baker on the ground. Officers were not able to find a pulse once he was on the ground, police said in the report. 

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While police and the medical examiner’s office have ruled Baker’s death a suicide, Crump on Sunday tweeted that Baker’s “hands were tied, teeth missing and face bruised.”

With the hashtag #JusticeForNevan, Crump added, “We demand transparency and a comprehensive investigation so we know exactly what happened!”

Sharhonda James, Baker’s mom, told the Sentinel she noticed injuries to Baker’s nose, forehead and jaw when she saw him in the morgue. She told the newspaper she has no reason to believe her son killed himself. 

“We’re not going to let this go; the community is not going to let this go,” James told the newspaper.

The Orlando Police Department released a statement Friday, calling Baker’s death a suicide.  

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“We have seen social media posts regarding a man who was found deceased in Barker Park. This is a tragic case of suicide, and it is difficult for investigators to discuss details publicly, out of respect to the victim’s privacy, and that of his family,” OPD said. 

A GoFundMe account was set up by Baker’s sister for his funeral arrangements, according to the Sentinel.

The county medical examiner’s office also ruled the manner of death as suicide in a case synopsis provided to USA TODAY by police.

The medical examiner’s office did not immediately respond to a request for the full autopsy report. 

“Officers have exhausted all leads and, at this time, there is no evidence of foul play or any kind of physical struggle,” the police department said in a statement.

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“The medical examiner also investigated and ruled the cause of death as suicide. Our detectives continue to support the victim’s family where they can. We are keeping the victim, his family, and friends in our thoughts during this difficult time.”

The case is similar to that of another Black man found hanging from a tree. Robert Fuller’s death in Palmdale, California, led to public outcry for a police investigation after the 24-year-old’s death was initially ruled a suicide.  Authorities again ruled the death a suicide after an investigation. 

A second California man, 38-year-old Malcolm Harsch, was also found hanged over the summer, which saw hate crimes and violence against Black Americans amid protests for racial justice. His death in Victorville was also ruled a suicide.


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