Authorities examined 600 pieces of evidence and spoke to 60 witnesses before charging a college professor with two felonies for allegedly causing fatal injuries to a Jewish protester during a dueling pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian rally this month in California.
Ventura County District Attorney Erik Nasarenko said Friday at a news conference that the investigation into the death of Jewish protester Paul Kessler, 69, was complicated and ultimately led to felony charges of involuntary manslaughter and battery causing serious bodily injury against Loay Abdelfattah Alnaji, a 50-year-old Moorpark College computer science professor.
“Our task was to search for the truth and to achieve clarity in this case, and that is what we have done,” Nasarenko said at the news conference. “This was not an easy undertaking, given the disparate, often-conflicting interpretations and statements, and also the fragmentary nature of the evidence.”
Both felony charges include special allegations, a type of enhancement, that he personally inflicted great bodily injury that makes Alnaji eligible for prison under California’s Three Strikes Law, Nasarenko said.
He said that investigators had gathered video and digital footage to “establish a clear sequence of events leading up to the confrontation” between the two men, Nasarenko said.
He added that investigators also determined there was no intent to commit a slaying by the suspect, and investigators have not met the legal threshold to determine whether a hate crime had been committed but that was still being investigated.
“Simply put, looking at the statements, as well as the words that accompany the act, we can not at this time meet the elements of a hate crime,” Nasarenko said.
He said investigators were looking for whether the suspect’s acts were accompanied by hate speech, words that demonstrate an “antipathy” or a “hatred towards a specific group.”
Alnaji, of Moorpark, was taken into custody Thursday morning and is expected to be arraigned Friday afternoon.
The charges stem from a confrontation that allegedly took place Nov. 5 at dueling pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian rallies in Thousand Oaks, California. Kessler got into a “physical altercation” with a pro-Palestinian protester, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said at the time. He fell backward and hit his head on the ground and died the next day.
Investigators said after Kessler’s death that piecing together what happened proved difficult because of “conflicting statements” from witnesses. The sheriff’s office previously said the “suspect” had remained at the scene and called 911 for medical help.
An autopsy determined Kessler’s cause of death to be blunt force head injury and the manner of death to be homicide. The lethal injury “was the impact to the back of the head from Mr. Kessler falling and striking his head on the ground,” the Ventura County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Christopher Young previously said.
Nasarenko and Ventura County Sheriff Jim Fryhoff, who also attended Friday’s media briefing, met virtually with Kessler’s family on Thursday, Nasarenko said.
The Kesslers are mourning, Nasarenko said, and asking for privacy. Nasarenko said Kessler worked in medical sales for decades, taught sales and marketing at satellite colleges, was a pilot and married for 43 years. Kessler also had a son, Nasarenko said.
“We want to continue to remember and honor Paul Kessler and the tragic loss of life that has occurred,” Nasarenko said.
Kessler’s death came amid a backdrop of heightened tensions in the United States due to the Israel-Hamas war and a rise in antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents.
The war erupted after Hamas’ incursion on Oct. 7. Israel estimates 1,200 people were killed in the attack, with 239 people still being held hostage in Gaza. Meanwhile, Gaza health officials say 11,500 Palestinians, including thousands of children, have been killed in the weekslong Israeli bombardment of the besieged and impoverished enclave, and more than 1.6 million people have been displaced there.