Detectives in California arrested a suspect in connection with the death of a Jewish man who suffered a fatal head injury during an altercation earlier this month amid dueling demonstrations over the Israel-Hamas war.
Loay Abdelfattah Alnaji, a 50-year-old college professor, was taken into custody Thursday on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter, according to a news release from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.
He has been booked at the Ventura County Pre-Trial Detention Facility and his bail will be set at $1 million, the sheriff’s office said. The district attorney will decide whether there is enough evidence for a formal charge. It remains unclear what led the sheriff’s office to arrest Alnaji.
What happened to Paul Kessler?
Paul Kessler, 69, died at a hospital on Nov. 6 from injuries he received during a confrontation with a pro-Palestinian demonstrator a day earlier in Thousand Oaks, a suburb northwest of Los Angeles.
At a news conference earlier this month, Ventura County Sheriff Jim Fryhoff said Kessler “fell backward and struck his head on the ground” sometime after the altercation started. Fryhoff said investigators were reviewing footage of the incident to determine what had led to Kessler’s fatal fall.
Around 75 pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel demonstrators were protesting at the corners of a busy intersection in Thousand Oaks, authorities said. Kessler was seen in photos waving an Israeli flag before he was injured.
Alnaji placed on leave from college, district spokesperson says
In a statement Thursday morning to the Ventura County Star, part of the USA TODAY network, a Ventura County Community College District spokesperson confirmed that Alnaji is a district employee and said the district has been in communication with law enforcement “throughout this process.”
Alnaji had been placed on administrative leave, the statement said.
He taught computer science classes at Moorpark College, according to a June version of the college webpage that has since been removed. The profile was no longer accessible on the public site on Nov. 9, days after Kessler’s death.
Representatives for the Ventura County Community College District, including Moorpark College President Julius Sokenu, did not to respond to multiple emails and phone calls and text messages sent since Nov. 9 requesting information on Alnaji’s employment status.
Suspect detained while investigators searched home
An unnamed 50-year-old suspect, who was described by Fryhoff as a pro-Palestinian demonstrator, stayed at the scene and was interviewed by law enforcement, Fryhoff told reporters. The man was “cooperative” and told detectives he was one of the people who called 911 requesting medical attention for Kessler. It’s unclear if it’s the same man taken into custody on Thursday.
After Kessler died, deputies temporarily detained the man while detectives searched his home in Moorpark. The results of the search have not been made public.
The incident prompted the sheriff to increase deputy patrols around local mosques and synagogues, citing rising tensions since the war between Israel and Hamas broke out last month.
Contributing: The Associated Press; The Ventura County Star