A man involved in a confrontation with a Jewish protester who died called 911 and cooperated with police
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Southern California authorities investigating the death of a Jewish man following a confrontation with a pro-Palestinian demonstrator over the war between Israel and Hamas have not determined whether a crime occurred, and on Tuesday asked for the public’s help in uncovering the circumstances of the crime. It happened.
Ventura County Sheriff Jim Freehoff said deputies determined that Paul Kessler, 69, who died early Monday in a hospital, fell backwards and hit his head on the ground during a pro-Palestinian demonstration Sunday afternoon in Thousand Oaks, a suburb. Northwest Los Angeles. .
The pro-Palestinian protester remained at the scene and told deputies he called 911, Freehoff said.
Freehoff said investigators got conflicting information from witnesses on both sides about what happened before the fall and had not ruled out the possibility of a hate crime. No arrests have been made, and officials are asking people to submit video footage if they have any.
“What exactly happened before Mr. Kessler backed down is not entirely clear at this time,” Freehof said, adding that it is also unclear how many people were involved.
He warned people not to jump to conclusions, and to “refrain from spreading rumors or spreading misinformation on social media or other platforms, as this could not only hamper our investigation, but could cause unnecessary panic in our community.”
Demonstrations spread widely and tensions rose in the United States as the death toll rose in the war between Israel and Hamas. Last month, a 6-year-old Palestinian-American boy was stabbed 26 times by his landlord in what authorities said was a response to escalating right-wing rhetoric about the conflict. In Ventura County alone, 21 demonstrations have taken place since the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, Freehoff said.
Freehoff said Kessler was among a group of pro-Israel protesters who attended the event, which was advertised as a peaceful rally in support of Palestinians. Freehof said about 75 people in total were there, and patrols in the area reported seeing no sign of violence 15 minutes before the altercation occurred.
Officers found Kessler bleeding from his head and mouth and he was conscious as he was taken to the hospital, Freehof said. A pro-Palestinian protester stayed to tell deputies that he was involved in the confrontation with Kessler and that he called 911 after he fell, Freehof said.
The pro-Palestinian protester is 50 years old and lives in the nearby city of Moorpark, Freehof said, adding that officials have not revealed his name at this time. He was briefly detained for questioning and authorities searched his home.
An autopsy found that Kessler died of blunt force trauma to the head, and that the injuries were consistent with a fall, Dr. Christopher Young, Ventura County Medical Examiner, said at Tuesday’s news conference. Kessler also suffered injuries that “could be consistent” with a blow to the face, but the cause of his fall is unclear, Young said.
Kessler was shot in the left side of his face and the back of his head. Young said he suffered skull fractures and swelling and bruising on the brain. Kessler’s death has been listed as a homicide, a medical determination that does not indicate foul play, Young said.
The sheriff was asked if a megaphone was used to hit Kessler.
“I heard that, and I think the coroner said the facial injuries could have been caused by the loudspeaker,” Freihof said. “But I have no information about what he had at the time.”
He added that additional patrols have been assigned to temples and mosques in the area.
Rabbi Michael Barclay, of Temple Ner Simcha in Westlake Village, near Thousand Oaks, also urged people to wait for investigators to determine what happened, writing on X, previously Twitter, “not to let this become a spark that starts an inferno.”
The Greater Los Angeles Area Office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a statement calling Kessler’s death a “tragic and shocking loss.”
“While we strongly support the right to political debate, CAIR-Los Angeles and the Muslim community stand with the Jewish community in rejecting any and all forms of violence, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or incitement to hatred,” the statement read.