California cops said Thursday that they’ve arrested a community college professor on an involuntary manslaughter charge in connection with the death of 69-year-old Paul Kessler, who suffered a fatal head injury earlier this month during dueling protests over the Israel-Hamas conflict.
The suspect, Loay Alnaji, who reportedly taught at Moorpark College, was arrested Thursday morning and is being held on $1,000,000 bail, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office announced.
The fatal encounter occurred on Nov. 5 in Thousand Oaks, California, where dueling protests of supporters of Palestine and Israel took a violent turn, with witnesses saying a pro-Palestine protester appeared to strike Kessler, who’d been photographed carrying an Israeli flag.
In a press conference last week, Sheriff James “Jim” Fryhoff said that Kessler was killed by blunt force trauma to his head.
“He fell backward and struck his head on the ground,” he said. “What exactly transpired prior to Mr. Kessler falling backward isn’t crystal clear.”
The sheriff added that there was a gas station security camera recording near the incident, but a sign displaying gas prices blocked the camera’s view of what exactly unfolded.
Fryhoff said last week that officers briefly detained an unnamed suspect on the day of the protest and searched a Moorpark home belonging to Alnaji, but the suspect was released after two hours.
Kessler’s death incited international outrage among supporters of Israel, who claimed Kessler was killed in a hate crime. Police’s announcement Thursday did not list any additional charges Alnaji may face, but Fryhoff—who said last week that he hadn’t ruled out the possibility of characterizing the incident as a hate crime—told Fox News a second update would be released later Thursday.
The Daily Mail reported that Alnaji, 50, pleaded with cops at the scene that he meant to hit Kessler’s phone, not him. Kessler’s friends gave a different account, however, claiming that Alnaji struck Kessler with a megaphone that sent him tumbling down.
“All of a sudden, I see a punch…The white megaphone flying through the air,” said the witness Jonathan Oswaks, according to the Mail.
Chris Young, the county’s medical examiner, told reporters last week that Kessler had nonlethal injuries to his face—a sign that he may have been hit by an object.
The Ventura County Community College District, which appeared to take down a biography page for Alnaji from its website on Thursday, did not respond to a request for comment.
The Daily Beast