The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office arrested a suspect in connection with the death of a Jewish protester during a confrontation between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrators in California earlier this month, NBC News reported.
Computer science professor Loay Alnaji, 50, was taken into custody on November 15, and charged with battery causing serious bodily injury and involuntary manslaughter in the death of 69-year-old Paul Kessler on November 5.
During demonstrations in Thousand Oaks, Kessler got into an altercation with Alnaji that resulted in him falling backward and striking his head on the ground. Kessler died the following day.
According to a news release from the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office, both charges against Alnaji are felonies and include special allegations that he personally inflicted great bodily injury, which is an enhancement.
In a November 17 press conference, Ventura County District Attorney Erik Nasarenko said investigators examined 600 pieces of evidence and interviewed 60 witnesses before charging Alnaji.
Nasarenko said a “clear sequence of events leading up to the confrontation” was established through video and digital footage. He said investigators concluded that Alnaji had not intended to kill Kessler and thus far, the threshold to determine a hate crime had not been met but investigators were still reviewing evidence looking for possible statements and acts by Alnaji that would demonstrate “hatred towards a specific group.”
The autopsy determined that Kessler’s cause of death was blunt force head trauma and the manner of death was deemed a homicide. Kessler also had nonlethal injuries to the front of his face that were consistent with sustaining a blow before falling, which is consistent with reports that Alnaji struck Kessler in the face with a megaphone.
The Ventura County Community College where Alnaji was employed said it had been cooperating with law enforcement throughout the investigation and Alnaji had been placed on administrative leave.
Alnaji was being held on $1 million bail.