Paul Kessler was a Jewish man who died after an “altercation” with a pro Palestinian protester while protesting on behalf of Israel during simultaneous pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrations, according to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department in California.
Authorities have not named the pro-Palestinian protester involved, but The New York Post and Daily Mail says he is Moorpark computer science professor Loay Alnaji.
A county supervisor posted on X that Kessler was struck, but sheriff’s officials said in a news release on November 6, 2023, that he struck his head on the ground after falling during an “altercation” with counter protester(s).
Ventura County Sheriff James Fryhoff said in a news conference that Kessler was a U.S. citizen of the Jewish faith and was advocating for Israel. The suspect was described as a 50 years old man who was at the intersection who was “advocating for Psaletine.” Patrols were increased around mosques and Jewish community buildings, Fryhoff said.
Fryhoff said sheriff’s officials are getting conflicting information about what happened during the “altercation.” He said authorities still don’t know whether a “blow to the face” caused the fall, which is what caused the fatal injuries to Kessler. The sheriff said it’s not clear who the aggressor was because officials are getting conflicting information.
Viral video showed Kessler lying on the sidewalk. Be forewarned that the videos and photos, which you can see later in this story, are disturbing. But Fryhoff said they don’t have video showing the altercation.
The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department announced in a news release that Sheriff Jim Fryhoff “will be conducting a press conference on Tuesday, November 7th at 10:00 am regarding the recent death of a pro-Israeli protester that occurred in the city of Thousand Oaks on 11/05/23, during simultaneous pro-Israeli / pro-Palestinian demonstrations that were taking place in proximity to one another.”
The release noted: “This is an active, on-going investigation and appears to be an isolated incident.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Death of Paul Kessler Is Being Investigated as a Possible Hate Crime, Officials Say
Fryhoff said in the November 7, 2023, news conference that they executed a search warrant for the suspect’s residence and conducted a traffic stop of the suspect, who was not named. He was detained and then released and has not been arrested, Fryhoff said. The suspect is from Moorpark, California, Fryhoff said.
Authorities said they can not comment on the results of the search warrant. Fryhoff said in the news conference that they have “not ruled out the possibility of a hate crime” and stated the death was “being investigated as a homicide.” They are committed to continuing to interview victims, he said.
Kessler had inter-cranial injuries including swelling of the brain, the medical examiner said at the press conference. He had non-lethal injuries to the left side of his face and injuries to the back of his head, which are injuries typical of injuries sustained in a fall, including skull fractures and swelling and bruising of the brain.
Photos show Kessler holding a large Israeli flag at the scene.
According to a news release from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, “a 69-year-old man, identified as Paul Kessler, died as a result of injuries sustained during an altercation at a Pro-Israeli / Pro-Palestinian event, both of which were occurring simultaneously at the intersection of Westlake Blvd. and Thousand Oaks Blvd.”
The release notes, “The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the incident and has not ruled out the possibility of a hate crime.”
It continues, “An autopsy was performed on November 6th and the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s Office determined the cause of death to be blunt force head injury and the manner of death homicide.”
2. Paul Kessler Struck His Head After Being ‘Involved in a Physical Altercation With Counter-Protestor(s),’ Authorities Say
On November 5, 2023, at approximately 3:20 p.m., multiple citizens “called the Ventura County Sheriff’s Communication Center to report a battery had occurred at the intersection of Westlake Boulevard and Thousand Oaks Boulevard in the City of Thousand Oaks. The intersection was the location of a Pro-Israeli / Pro-Palestinian demonstration,” the release says.
Upon arrival, “responding deputies located Kessler, who was suffering from a head injury,” the release says. “Witness accounts indicated that Kessler was involved in a physical altercation with counter-protestor(s). During the altercation, Kessler fell backwards and struck his head on the ground. Kessler was transported to an area hospital for advanced medical treatment. On November 6, 2023, Kessler succumbed to his injuries.”
The Sheriff’s Department noted, “This is an active and ongoing investigation, and the incident appears to be isolated and not part of a large effort. The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office is requesting assistance from the public regarding this ongoing investigation. Anyone who witnessed or has knowledge of the incident, or who was present at the demonstration is encouraged to contact Detective Stump at (805) 384-4745.”
3. Video Showed Paul Kessler Lying Injured on the Ground
Video showed that protestors kept chanting even after Kessler was injured and his blood remained on the sidewalk.
Photos showed that his wife, Cheryl, was also present at the protest.
People on social media said that Kessler was struck with a megaphone, but sheriff’s officials had not confirmed that detail in their release. The sheriff would not say whether a megaphone was recovered, and he would not comment on the suspect’s prior arrest history, if any.
The injuries to Kessler’s face could have been caused by a megaphone, Fryhoff said.
Photos of different people were being shared on social media with claims that they were the suspect.
4. A Local Rabbi Says a Suspect Was Identified in the Death of Paul Kessler
Rabbi Michael Barclay, who describes himself as “the Spiritual Leader of Temple Ner Simcha,” wrote on X, “To make things clear. Paul’s death has been ruled by the M.E. a homicide, but to quote the Chief of Police, whom I just hung up, that can range from an accident to intentional murder and anywhere in between.”
He added, “PLEASE let Sheriff Fryhoff and Chief Paris do their jobs. As of right now, there are multiple conflicting witness reports, and no video of what happened before Paul hit the ground. These are good men, and please have faith they will see justice.”
Barclay wrote, “Law enforcement has identified a suspect who was in an altercation with Paul Kessler immediately prior to his death. They are attempting to identify exactly what happened, as there is no video yet of the altercation. Witnesses range from it was verbal to him hitting Paul.”
However, the Los Angeles Times reported that no suspect was under arrest.
According to Barclay, “These demonstrators have been looking for violence, shouting profanities, and stopping cars for the last 3 Sundays. But we MUST let the police do their job. Ventura County Sheriff and 1000 Oaks Police have integrity, and are being cautious and careful before making accusations. We need to do the same; and not let this become a spark that starts an inferno. May Paul’s memory be a blessing and his family comforted among the mourners of Zion.”
He wrote earlier, “As the Rabbi in Westlake, I just got off the phone with the Chief of Police. As of 5:42pm, this is the situation: They have conflicting reports of what happened, and they did interview the suspect that is identified in social media at the event. They have no video.”
5. A County Supervisor Says the ‘Elderly Man’ Died After ‘Having Been Struck at a Protest’
Ventura County Supervisor Jeff Gorell wrote on X, “I’m heartbroken to hear of the tragic death of an elderly man today after having been struck at a protest in my district. My prayers are with this man’s family and friends. Our whole community grieves at this senseless loss of life. I call for peace in our community.”
He continued, “I immediately reached out to local leaders at the Islamic Center of Conejo Valley & to our local Rabbis. I called for peace in our community. Hate and violence are never the answer. We must have faith in the process. There is an investigation. It will be fair and thorough.”
READ NEXT: Matthew Perry’s Cause of Death