LOS ANGELES (JTA) — The Ventura County sheriff’s office has arrested a man in connection with the death of Paul Kessler, a 69-year-old Jewish pro-Israel activist who died after a confrontation during a demonstration in a Los Angeles suburb.
Loay Abdelfattah Alnaji, 50, of Moorpark, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and his bail was set at $1 million. A spokesman for the sheriff’s office declined to share any further information — including about the possibility that the case was being investigated as a hate crime. Involuntary manslaughter is usually applied in cases where authorities believe that a killing was unintentional.
Alnaji had been identified, though not by name, as the main suspect in the investigation at a press conference held by the sheriff’s office on Nov. 7. Ventura County Sheriff James Fryhoff had said the suspect had been briefly detained while investigators executed a search warrant on his home. Fryhoff said Alnaji had been cooperative with deputies.
Social media watchdogs and news organizations had identified Alnaji as the likely suspect using photographs from the scene. Alnaji has worked as a professor of computer science at local colleges and had, according to news reports, posted pro-Palestinian content on social media.
Though an arrest has been made, the sheriff’s office encouraged anyone with information about the criminal investigation to come forward, including those with footage of the protest where the altercation took place on Nov. 5.
Kessler’s death had been ruled a homicide. The Ventura County chief medical examiner said during the Nov. 7 press conference that physicians who assessed Kessler, as well as an autopsy that was performed on him, observed an injury to his face that could have been caused by being struck with a megaphone — something the local Jewish federation said had occurred. But it was the blow to the back of Kessler’s head, caused by his fall, that was fatal, said the examiner, Dr. Christopher Young.
Kessler’s death was the first associated with a wave of demonstrations for and against Israel in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Scuffles have broken out at others.
“We are grateful for the swift work of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department in response to the tragic death of Mr. Paul Kessler,” the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles said in a statement. “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. Our heartfelt condolences continue to be with the family of Paul Kessler and may his memory forever be a blessing.”
In the immediate aftermath of Kessler’s death, the local Jewish community had gathered at the intersection where the fatal altercation occurred to lay out flowers, light candles and hear from local leaders and witnesses of the incident.