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 P a ul Kessler, a Jewish protester who fell after a confrontation at dueling rallies in California for Israel and Palestinians this month.

Loay Alnaji, 50, was taken into custody Thursday morning and is charged with involuntary manslaughter and battery causing serious bodily injury, officials said.

Kessler, 69, was at a pro-Israel gathering Nov. 5 in Thousand Oaks 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 next day.

Alnaji, of Moorpark, was being held Thursday night on $1 million bail, according to online records.

Both charges he faces are felonies, the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office said. It said both counts have special allegations that Alnaji personally inflicted great bodily injury,which is a type of enhancement.

A news conference with the district attorney and the sheriff is expected Friday morning.

California penal code defines involuntary manslaughter as when someone is killed by an unlawful act less severe than a felony or by a lawful act that might produce death in an unlawful manner or without due caution. 

Officials said that though 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, Calif., on Nov. 7. Mario Tama / Getty Images Kessler’s and Alnaji’s wives could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday. 

Online court records did not list an attorney for Alnaji on Thursday afternoon.

The Ventura County Community College District, where Alnaji was employed as a computer science professor, said he will be placed on administrative leave effective immediately. It said that it has been in communication with law enforcement throughout the investigation.

Investigators previously said “conflicting statements” from witnesses made it difficult to piece together what happened.

The suspect remained at the scene and called 911 for medical help, the sheriff’s office said last week, without naming him.

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,” Sheriff James Fryhoff said last week.

An autopsy determined Kessler’s cause of death to be blunt force head injury and the manner of death to be homicide.

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 last week.

Kessler also had nonlethal injuries to the front of his face that could be consistent with a blow, Young said.

Tensions have been high in the U.S. 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.

Paul Kessler at a demonstration in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 5. JLTV via AP While some — including Israeli politicians — were quick to call Kessler’s death an act of antisemitism, a local rabbi and the Los Angeles-area office the Council on American-Islamic Relations called for patience and calm and for a thorough investigation first.

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.”

Marlene Lenthang

Breaking News Reporter

Janelle Griffith

and

Phil Helsel

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