David Swanson/AFP/Getty Images
Flowers, candles and flags decorate a makeshift memorial for Paul Kessler in Thousand Oaks, California, on November 7.
A man has been charged in connection with the death of Paul Kessler, a Jewish protester who fell and hit his head during a confrontation at dueling rallies over the Israel-Hamas war this month in Southern California, Ventura County officials said Thursday.
Loay Alnaji, 50, of Moorpark, was arrested Thursday morning in connection with Kessler’s death, the county sheriff’s office said. Alnaji was then charged with involuntary manslaughter and battery causing serious bodily injury — both felonies — the county prosecutor’s office said.
A news conference with District Attorney Erik Nasarenko and Ventura County Sheriff Jim Fryhoff is scheduled for Friday morning. Alnaji is scheduled to appear in court Friday afternoon, according to inmate information on the sheriff’s office website.
Alnaji’s bail has been set at $1 million, the sheriff’s office said. CNN is working to determine whether Alnaji has legal representation.
Kessler, 69, died after suffering a head injury following an interaction with a pro-Palestinian protester during a pair of simultaneous demonstrations held by pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups on Nov. 5 in Thousand Oaks, according to the sheriff’s office.
Witnesses said Kessler, who supported Israel at the rallies, was “involved in a physical altercation” with at least one counter-protester while the rallies were being held, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said in an earlier news release.
It is unclear what interaction Kessler and Alnaji had before the incident.
“Although an arrest has been made, we continue to encourage members of the local community who may have information about this criminal investigation and have not yet come forward,” the sheriff’s office said Thursday.
Anyone who drove a vehicle with video recording equipment in the area where the pro-Israel and pro-Palestine protests were held is being asked to contact detectives or provide evidence.
Alnaji has been placed on administrative leave from his job at a community college, the Ventura County Community College District said in an emailed statement Thursday. Alnaji works at Moorpark College, the Los Angeles Times reported, although his profile on the district’s website was unavailable Thursday. The college district has been communicating with sheriff’s officials during the investigation into Kessler’s death, the district said.
The dueling rallies were among the many protests that have sprung up in cities across the United States, either in support of Israel or to protest its retaliation for the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks that killed more than 1,200 people.
More than 11,200 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched its military offensive a month ago, the Palestinian Health Ministry in Ramallah said on Tuesday. drawing from sources in the Hamas-controlled enclave. Israeli airstrikes have hit schools, refugee camps and ambulances.
Details of the altercation remain unclear
The simultaneous protests where the incident occurred were held by two groups identified as “Freedom for Palestine” and “We are Pro-Israel,” according to the sheriff’s office. Authorities estimate that between 75 and 100 people were present between both groups.
What happened before Kessler’s head injury is unclear because of conflicting accounts from pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian witnesses, Ventura County Sheriff James Fryhoff said in an earlier news release.
A video filmed at the scene and shared online shows Kessler lying on his back on the pavement with blood on his face and on the ground. He places his hands on his head like a woman with a Palestinian flag on her back, and a man leans over him and tries to help, the video shows. The footage does not show the altercation that led to Kessler’s injuries.
Obtained by CNN
This photo, taken on November 5, shows Paul Kessler holding an Israeli flag at the intersection where the altercation would later take place.
A suspect was interviewed at the scene, Fryhoff said in the release. He was cooperative and told authorities he was involved in the altercation with Kessler, Fryhoff said. The suspect also said he was among the people who called 911 so Kessler could receive medical attention.
Kessler was still conscious and responsive when Ventura County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene, according to Fryhoff. Kessler was treated by the Ventura County Fire Department and taken to the hospital, where he was listed in critical condition, the sheriff said.
It was just before 3 a.m. on Nov. 6 that the hospital informed the sheriff’s office that Kessler had died, Fryhoff said.
Later that day, detectives conducted a traffic stop on a vehicle driven by the suspect and he was detained while executing a search warrant at his home. It is unclear if the suspect was interviewed at the scene and detained on November 6 was Alnaji.
An autopsy revealed that Kessler suffered non-fatal injuries to the left side of his face and injuries to the back of his head that were “consistent with and typical of injuries sustained in a fall,” Dr. Christopher Young, chief medical examiner for Ventura County, told reporters. He also suffered internal injuries consistent with a fall, such as a fractured skull and swelling and bruising to the brain, Young said.
The cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma and the manner of death a homicide, Young said. The latter, he noted, is a medical determination, meaning the death occurred at the hands of another person and does not mean a crime has been committed.
This is a developing story and will be updated.