A college professor was arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter and battery in connection with the death of a Jewish protester following an altercation at a protest over the Israel-Hamas war in southern California.
Authorities said on Thursday that Loay Abdelfattah Alnaji, 50, personally inflicted “great bodily injury” on Paul Kessler, 69, during a confrontation at a demonstration in Thousand Oaks, a suburb north-west of Los Angeles.
Media reports have identified Alnaji as a professor at Moorpark College.
A man who answered the phone at a mobile number listed for Alnaji in public records said he did not want to comment. He did not give his name. A message could not be left at a number for Alnaji’s home in Moorpark north of Los Angeles, because voicemail was not set up.
Paul Kessler, 69, died last week from a head injury sustained at pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrations. Los Angeles has seen a flurry of protests related to the Israel-Hamas war in recent weeks, particularly as the death toll has risen.
At dueling demonstrations on 5 November, Kessler was in the middle of a confrontation with protesters when he fell backward and hit his head, Sheriff Jim Fryhoff said last week.
A pro-Palestinian demonstrator stayed at the scene and told deputies he had called 911, Fryhoff said. He also told investigators he was involved in a confrontation with Kessler. The sheriff’s office issued a search warrant at his residence last week.
Authorities did not say in a news release why an arrest was warranted. They are still seeking more video evidence in the case.
Alnaji’s bail will be set at $1m, the sheriff’s office said.
In the aftermath of the incident, Fryhoff said that the exact circumstances around the incident were unclear as witnesses gave conflicting statements about what occurred before Kessler fell.
A short video clip showing Kessler on the ground surfaced online, but no video has been released showing the actual confrontation.
The suspect stayed at the scene and told deputies he had called 911, Fryhoff said, adding that authorities later briefly detained him for questioning and searched his home in Moorpark.
Kessler was among a group of pro-Israel demonstrators who showed up at the event that was advertised as a peaceful gathering to support Palestinians. About 75 people in total were there and patrols in the area reported seeing no indication of violence 15 minutes before the altercation, officials said.
The war in Israel and Palestine has sparked protests across the US, and fueled concerns about antisemitism and Islamophobia.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles said in a statement that it was grateful for the work of sheriff’s investigators.
“This arrest shows that violence towards our Jewish community will not be tolerated,” the group said.
Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called it “a tragic situation that is indicative of a very unfortunate accident that no one intended to happen”.
“We now await the criminal justice system’s process and result and wish that truth and justice will prevail,” he said. “We reiterate our strong support for the right of first amendment political debate, protest, and speech and our unequivocal rejection of all violence, antisemitism, Islamophobia, or incitement of hatred.”