Suspect arrested in death of Jewish protester who fell after clash at dueling rallies in California

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 the Palestinians.

Loay Alnaji, 50, was taken into custody Thursday morning and will be charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with Kessler’s death, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said.

Kessler, 69, was at a pro-Israel gathering Nov. 5 in Thousand Oaks, Calif., when he got into a “physical altercation” with a pro-Palestinian protester, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said. He fell backwards and hit his head on the ground during the argument and died the next day.

Alnaji from Moorpark, will be booked into the Ventura County Pre-Trial Detention Facility and bail will be set at $1 million, the sheriff’s office said.

Officials initially said they had not ruled out the possibility of a hate crime. The sheriff’s office would not say Thursday morning whether such a charge might still be forthcoming and that additional information would be released later today.

Under California Penal Code, involuntary manslaughter is defined as when someone is killed by an unlawful act less serious than a felony or by a lawful act that may result in death in an unlawful manner or without due care.

Officials said even if an arrest was made, anyone with information about 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, California, on November 7, 2023.Mario Tama/Getty Images

Officials investigating Kessler’s death previously said “conflicting statements” from witnesses made it difficult to piece together what happened.

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A 50-year-old man, who authorities initially described as a suspect, called 911 for medical attention, remained at the scene and was interviewed by deputies. His name was not released during the investigation.

A search warrant 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 was head injury and the manner of death as homicide — which is defined as death at the hands of another person but does not indicate foul play.

“The manner of death for homicide does not indicate that a crime has been committed – that is determined by the DA’s office,” said Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Christopher Young.

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 fatal injury was the impact to the back of the head from Mr. Kessler falling and hitting 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 happened in that interaction and whether there was a blow to the face that caused the fall or whether Mr. Kessler fell without that being the precipitating event,” Fryhoff said last week.

Tensions have been high in the US and other countries as a result of the Israel-Hamas war.

It has been more than a month since the surprise Hamas terror attack, which Israel estimates killed 1,200 people, 239 of whom are still being 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.

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While some in Israel were quick to call Kessler’s death an act of anti-Semitism, 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 urging all individuals to refrain from jumping to conclusions, sensationalizing such a tragedy for political gain, 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 against our Jewish community will not be tolerated. We will continue to monitor the case to ensure justice is served.”

Paul Kessler attends a rally in Thousand Oaks, California, on Sunday.JLTV via AP

Kyle Jorrey, a former editor at the Thousand Oaks Acorn, remembered Kessler at X as “an ardent Democrat” with “a sharp wit” who “loved a good takedown.”

He was also one of the paper’s “longest active letter writers,” Jorrey said in an interview Tuesday. Kessler has written consistently for editors 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 development story. Please check back for updates.