(CNN) — A 50-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the death of a Jewish protester who fell and hit his head during pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian protests in Southern California earlier this month, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release Thursday.
Loay Alnaji was arrested Thursday on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter and his bail will be set at $1 million, the news release said. Alnaji was arrested within the hour and does not yet appear in the Ventura County inmate roster. CNN is trying to determine if he has legal representation.
Paul Kessler, 69, died after suffering a head injury following an interaction with a pro-Palestine protestor during dueling rallies on November 5.
Witnesses said Kessler was “involved in a physical altercation” with at least one counter protester while pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian rallies were being held in Thousand Oaks, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said in an earlier news release.
It is unclear what interaction Kessler and Alnaji had before the incident.
“Though an arrest has been made, we continue to encourage community members who may have information about this criminal investigation and have yet to come forward,” the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
Anyone who was driving a vehicle with video recording equipment in the area where the pro-Israel and pro-Palestine protests were being held is being asked to reach out to detectives or submit evidence.
Kessler, according to the sheriff’s office, was supporting Israel at the demonstrations – two among the many that have sprung up in cities across the United States, either in support of Israel or to protest its retaliation for the October 7 Hamas attacks, which 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 Ministry of Health in Ramallah said Tuesday, drawing from sources in the Hamas-controlled enclave. Israeli airstrikes have hit schools, refugee camps and ambulances.
Details surrounding altercation remain unclear
The simultaneous protests where the incident took place were held by two groups identified as “Freedom for Palestine” and “We are Pro-Israel,” according to the sheriff’s office. Authorities estimated between 75 and 100 people were present between both groups.
What happened prior to Kessler’s head injury is unclear due to conflicting accounts from pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian witnesses, Ventura County Sheriff James Fryhoff said in an earlier news release.
One video filmed at the scene and shared online shows Kessler lying on his back on the sidewalk, with blood on his face and on the ground. He places his hands on his head as a woman with a Palestinian flag on her back and a man lean over him, trying to help, the video shows. The footage does not show the altercation that led to Kessler’s injuries.
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, Fyhoff 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 deputies arrived on the scene, according to Fryhoff. Kessler was given medical aid 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 November 6 that the hospital informed the sheriff’s office Kessler had died, Fryhoff said.
Later that day, detectives conducted a traffic stop on a vehicle driven by the suspect and he was detained during the execution of a search warrant at his home. It is unclear if the suspect interviewed at the scene and arrested Monday afternoon was Alnaji.
An autopsy revealed Kessler suffered non-lethal injuries on the left side of his face and injuries to the back of his head, which were “consistent with and typical of injuries sustained from a fall,” Dr. Christopher Young, the chief medical examiner for Ventura County, told reporters. He also suffered internal injuries consistent with a fall, like skull fractures and swelling and bruising of the brain, Young said.
The cause of death was determined to be blunt force head 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 it does not mean a crime has been committed.
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