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Family Demanding Answers After Death of Black man Found Hanging From a Tree Ruled Suicide

ORLANDO, Fla. — The mother of a Black man who was found hanging from a tree in a park in Orlando, Florida last weekend says she is not convinced her son committed suicide.

Orlando police officials and the District Nine Medical Examiner’s Officer have both ruled the death of 22-year-old Nevan Baker a suicide.

Baker’s mother, Sharhonda James said she does not find the evidence convincing and she has questions for the investigators.

“We don’t have answers to everything,” James said Monday after the meeting. “They tried to explain some things, but they still weren’t adding up.”

OPD met with Baker’s family, community leaders, and an attorney Monday afternoon and shared evidence from its investigation. The evidence included the body-worn camera footage from the officer who responded to a 911 call about Baker and crime scene photos.

“Some of the investigative details provided to the family members include body worn camera video that showed Nevan’s hands were not tied behind his back and crime scene photos that illustrated Nevan had no bruising on his body,” OPD said in a statement Monday afternoon.

Baker’s mother said when she saw her son’s body, she noticed that his nose was swollen, he had bumps on his forehead and his jaw looked misaligned.

James said the evidence she saw Monday did not clearly disprove claims that her son’s hands had been tied behind his back before police arrived at the scene.

Civil rights attorney, Benjamin Crump tweeted on Sunday that Baker was found hanging from a tree, and “his hands were tied, teeth missing and face bruised”.

But Rev. Terence Gray, who also attended Monday’s meeting, said the evidence he saw cleared up his concerns that Baker had been the victim of foul play.

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“My heart goes out to the family, first and foremost,” Gray said Monday night. “I left there with a clear understanding that he was a brother who had decided to take his life. … There was no hands tied, there was no physical bruising.”

He also said he didn’t see anything that indicated misconduct in the investigation.

According to OPD’s case report, Baker was found deceased, hanging by a rope from a tree in George Barker Park on October 4 around 3:45 a.m. A man who was walking his dog nearby called 911 after discovering the body.

OPD currently has no video of Baker entering the park, and no surveillance footage from the park showing the area where the tree was located.

Miles Mulrain Jr., a community activist who helped lead a memorial vigil for Baker Sunday night said OPD’s evidence made it hard to clearly prove that Baker’s hands were not tied behind his back before police arrived.

Mulrain said, the only footage showing Baker before officers arrived was from the shaky body-worn camera of an officer who was running up to the tree. He said Baker’s hands can be seen untied later in the footage after multiple officers had arrived on the scene, making it difficult to prove that his hands weren’t untied by one of the police at the scene.

“They were more worried about our social media posts and putting about false narratives, than really finding out [what happened],” Mulrain said, calling the probe a “lackluster effort.”

James said she still has many concerns, including that images can be edited, but was glad that OPD has said it would re-open the investigation if new evidence was discovered. “I believe in God,” James said. “There’s nothing on the earth that won’t come to light one day.”

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