Police Hold Off on Charging Anti-Israel Protester Who May Have Killed Elderly Jewish Man in California
A 50-year-old suspect who may have caused the death of an elderly Jewish man during an anti-Israel protest in a Los Angeles suburb on Sunday has not yet been arrested or charged with a crime, the Ventura Country Sheriff’s Department announced during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
Paul Kessler, 69, died on Monday at Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, California, after succumbing to injuries caused by “blunt force head trauma,” Ventura County medical examiner Dr. Christopher Young confirmed. The incident occurred at dueling demonstrations held over the Israel-Hamas war.
During an altercation with someone whom police described as a “pro-Palestine” protester, Kessler fell backward and hit his head on the ground, fracturing his skull and causing brain hemorrhaging, swelling, and bruising.
Authorities ruled the “manner of death” a homicide. However, Ventura County Sheriff Jim Fryhoff said on Tuesday that there is insufficient evidence to begin criminal proceedings, citing both a lack of video documentation of the altercation that caused Kessler’s fall and conflicting reports made by pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel protesters about how Kessler wound up on the floor bleeding from his head and mouth.
Fryhoff explained that the suspect, whom officials have not publicly identified, was briefly detained during a traffic stop while a search of his home in Moorpark — a city in Ventura County — was conducted with a warrant on Monday morning. The sheriff declined to disclose any police findings from the search or to provide additional information about the suspect’s background, including whether he has a criminal history.
“Investigators have not ruled out the possibility of a hate crime, and this is being investigated as a homicide,” Fryhoff said. “Investigators from the Sheriff’s Major Crimes Bureau and the Thousand Oaks Investigations Bureau are committed to continuing to locate and interview witnesses to the event or any individuals who were present or nearby that might have helpful information to provide.”
Fryhoff also addressed the broader political tensions that have surfaced amid the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group that invaded the Jewish state on Oct. 7 and massacred 1,400 people, mostly civilians.
“We understand that the war in Israel and Gaza has led to an increase in hateful and threatening rhetoric, and we want to assure the Muslim and Jewish communities that we stand with them both during this difficult time,” he said. “The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office remains committed to protecting the rights and safety of all members of our community, regardless of their race, religion, or ethnicity. To this end, we have increased patrols around mosques and our Muslim community centers and Jewish houses of worship.”
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has said that an anti-Israel protester struck Kessler in the head with a megaphone during Sunday’s confrontation.
Young said during Tuesday’s press conference that Kessler did have injuries to his face. The medical examiner and the police declined to comment on how they were caused and what immediately preceded Kessler hitting his head on the ground.
“An autopsy was performed on the morning of November 6. The autopsy demonstrated non-lethal injuries to the left side of Mr. Kessler’s face,” Young said.
He added that Kessler’s cause of death was “blunt force head trauma” and that “the manner of death is homicide.” However, the medical examiner explained that the designation of homicide in this case does not indicate that a crime has necessarily been committed, but rather that the death resulted from or was contributed to by the actions of another person.
When Young was asked while taking questions from reporters how Kessler’s face was injured, Fryhoff intervened and said, “It’s my contention that we still don’t know that. My contention is that we’re still waiting to see evidence of what occurred in that interaction and whether or not there was a blow to the face that caused the fall or if Mr. Kessler fell without that being the precipitating event.”
The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department has asked the public to send video of the altercation or contact the office with any relevant information.
The death of Kessler comes amid a global surge in antisemitism, especially across the US and Europe, following Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel. It has also sparked both alarm and mourning in southern California’s Jewish community.
“While we wait for more information from our law enforcement partners, we remind you that this is the fourth major antisemitic crime committed in Los Angeles this year alone,” the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles said in a statement. “Violence against our people has no place in civilized society. We demand safety. We will not tolerate violence against our community. We will do everything in our power to prevent it.”
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.