Family of Black Man Found Hanging From Tree Say Things Still Don't 'Add Up' After Seeing Police Evidence

The family of a Black man found hanging from a tree in Orlando earlier this month doubt the death was a suicide after viewing police evidence.

Nevan Baker, 22, was found by a man walking his dog in the early hours of the morning on October 4, hanging by a rope from a tree, according to an Orlando Police Department (OPD) case report.

The OPD and the District Nine Medical Examiner's Office ruled Baker's death a suicide.

However, Baker's mother Sharhonda James, says she is unconvinced that her son took his own life.

The young man's family, community leaders and an attorney met with the OPD on Monday to view evidence from the investigation, including the body-worn camera footage from responding officers and crime scene photos.

James was unconvinced by the evidence, saying it was not clear and things "weren't adding up."

"We don't have answers to everything," she said after the meeting.

"They tried to explain some things, but they still weren't adding up."

James originally told the Orlando Sentinel that when she saw her son's body, there was swelling on his nose, bumps on his forehead and that it looked like his jaw was misaligned.

Baker's sister, Jamia Douglas, set up a GoFundMe page also demanding answers.

"This was an unexpected death that left my family with many unanswered questions behind his murder," the page reads.

Baker's grandmother, Francine James, told Wesh2 News she believed foul play was involved.

"Somebody did something to my grandson .... He did not kill himself," she said.

Benjamin Crump, the famed civil rights attorney who represents the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, among others, supported the family in their quest for answers.

"Nevan Baker was found HANGING from a tree in Orlando. Orlando Police quickly ruled his death a suicide but now we learn his hands were tied, teeth missing and face bruised," he posted to Twitter on Sunday.

"We demand transparency and a comprehensive investigation so we know exactly what happened!"

However, the ODP released a statement on Monday refuting the family's claims.

"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," the statement read.

"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 previous statement.

"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."

UPDATE: Please see the statement below from the Orlando Police Department:“We have seen social media posts regarding a...

Posted by Orlando Police Department on Friday, October 9, 2020

Rev. Terence Gray of Saint Mark AME Church in Orlando, who was also in attendance for the meeting with investigators, said he believed the evidence shown indicated there had not been foul play.

"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."

According to the OPD's original case report, Baker was found about 3:45 a.m. in Barker Park, near Camping World Stadium and the Washington Shores neighborhood, hanging by a rope from a tree.

Three arriving officers tried to help the young man, with one grabbing him "by the lower half" while the other two cut a 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.

The only footage of Baker's body recorded before officers intervened was from the body-worn camera of an officer who was running up to the tree.

However, the family is calling for investigators to examine surveillance footage from the park and review Baker's cell phone, which could contain important evidence.

As of Monday, the OPD said they are still awaiting a report from the Orange County Medical Examiner's Office.

"The case remains open," the force said.

Newsweek has reached out to the Orlando Police Department and the family for comment.

If you have thoughts of suicide, confidential help is available for free at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 1-800-273-8255. The line is available 24 hours every day.

Crime Scene
Crime scene tape flutters in the wind (file photo). Nevan Baker's family is now questioning whether the young man took his life or was murdered after he was found hanging from a tree in Orlando. Mark Makela/Getty