A suspect has been arrested in connection with the death of Paul Kessler, a Jewish protester who fell after a confrontation at dueling rallies in California for Israel and Palestinians.
Loay Alnaji, 50, was taken into custody Thursday morning and will be booked on a charge of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of Kessler, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said.
Kessler, 69, was at a pro-Israel gathering on Nov. 5 in Thousand Oaks, California, when he got into a “physical altercation” with a pro-Palestinian protester, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said. He fell backward and hit his head on the ground during the altercation, and died the following day.
Alnaji, of Moorpark, will be booked at the Ventura County Pre-Trial Detention Facility and bail will be set at $1 million, the sheriff’s office said.
While involuntary manslaughter is just a booking charge at this point, the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office said Thursday it has received the sheriff’s office investigation and a charging decision is expected later today.
“Throughout their investigation, prosecutors have been in daily consultation with the Sheriff’s Office and are finalizing review of the evidence,” the district attorney’s office said.
Officials initially said they hadn’t ruled out the possibility of a hate crime. The sheriff’s office wouldn’t say Thursday morning if such a charge may still come.
Under California penal code, involuntary manslaughter is defined as when someone is killed by an unlawful act less severe than a felony or by a lawful act which might produce death in an unlawful manner or without due caution.
Officials said that, though an arrest was made, anyone with information on the incident should still come forward and share video if possible.A person draws a Star of David at a memorial for Paul Kessler in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 7, 2023.Mario Tama / Getty Images
The wives of Kessler and Alnaji could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday.
Officials investigating Kessler’s death previously said “conflicting statements” from witnesses made it difficult to piece together what happened.
A 50-year-old man whom authorities initially described as a suspect called 911 for medical help, remained at the scene and was interviewed by deputies. His name was not released during the investigation.
A search was conducted at the suspect’s Moorpark home on Nov. 6, the same day Kessler died, Fryhoff said.
An autopsy determined the cause of death to be blunt force head injury and the manner of death as homicide — which is defined as death at the hands of another person, but doesn’t suggest wrongdoing.
“Manner of death of homicide does not indicate a crime has been committed — that’s determined by DA’s office,” Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Christopher Young said.
The autopsy found injuries consistent with a fall, according to the medical examiner.
Kessler had injuries to the left side of his face, but “the lethal injury was the impact to the back of the head from Mr. Kessler falling and striking his head on the ground,” Young said.
The injuries to the front of the face “could be consistent with a blow to the face,” he added.
Investigators were “waiting to see evidence of what occurred in that interaction, and whether or not there was a blow to the face that caused the fall, or if Mr. Kessler fell without that being the precipitating event,” Fryhoff said last week.
Tensions have been high in the United States and other countries as a result of the Israel-Hamas war.
It has been more than a month since the surprise Hamas terrorist attack that Israel estimates killed 1,200 people, with 239 still held hostage in the Gaza Strip. More than 1.6 million people have been displaced in the impoverished Gaza Strip, and health officials there say more than 11,000 have been killed in the Israeli bombing campaign.
While some in Israel were quick to call Kessler’s death an act of antisemitism, local officials called for patience and calm and for a thorough investigation first.
“We are deeply saddened by this tragic and shocking loss,” the Greater Los Angeles Area Office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said last week. “We join local Jewish leaders in calling on all individuals to refrain from jumping to conclusions, sensationalizing such a tragedy for political gains, or spreading rumors that could unnecessarily escalate tensions that are already at an all-time high.”
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles said Thursday: “This arrest shows that violence towards our Jewish community will not be tolerated. We will continue to monitor the case to help ensure justice is served.”Paul Kessler attends a demonstration in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Sunday.JLTV via AP
Kyle Jorrey, a former editor at the Thousand Oaks Acorn, remembered Kessler on X as “an ardent Democrat” with “a sharp wit” who “loved a good takedown.”
He was also one of the newspaper’s “longest active letter writers,” Jorrey said in an interview Tuesday. Kessler wrote to editors consistently for more than 20 years on topics ranging from climate change to the Covid vaccine. His last contribution was in September.
“He wasn’t afraid to let people know how he felt,” Jorrey said.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.