THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — A Jewish man in California has died after a confrontation during dueling protests over the Israel-Hamas war, and police said Tuesday they had identified a suspect who called 911 after the altercation.
Paul Kessler, 69, died at a hospital early Monday from a head injury after witnesses reported he was involved in a “physical altercation” during pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrations at an intersection in Thousand Oaks, a suburb northwest of Los Angeles, authorities said.
Ventura County Medical examiner Dr. Christopher Young said at a news conference Tuesday that an autopsy found Kessler died from a blunt force head injury, and that the injuries were consistent with a fall. It’s unclear if a blow to the face caused his fall or not.
Ventura County Sheriff Jim Fryhoff said no arrests have been made, though authorities identified a suspect who stayed at the scene and told officers he had called 911 to help Kessler.
Deputies determined Kessler fell backward and struck his head on the ground, Fryhoff said.
“What exactly transpired prior to Mr. Kessler falling backward isn’t crystal clear right now,” he added.
The suspect, who has been cooperating with authorities, was detained briefly for questioning and authorities searched the suspect’s home, Fryhoff said.
Fryhoff said authorities received conflicting information and were still trying to sort out what happened and whether a crime had been committed. He said investigators also hadn’t ruled out the possibility that the act was a hate crime.
It’s also unclear how many people were involved in the altercation, Fryhoff said.
Fryhoff said the event started as a pro-Palestine demonstration and was advertised as a peaceful gathering and that pro-Israel demonstrators turned out with about 75 to 100 people total attending.
Rabbi Michael Barclay of Temple Ner Simcha in Westlake Village, near Thousand Oaks, urged people to avoid jumping to conclusions about what happened.
PLEASE let Sheriff Fryhoff and Chief Paris do their jobs. As of right now, there are multiple conflicting witness reports, and no video of what happened before Paul hit the ground. These are good men, and please have faith they will see justice— Rabbi Michael Barclay (@Rabbi_Barclay) November 7, 2023
“I just got off the phone with the Chief of Police,” he posted on X, formerly Twitter. “They have conflicting reports of what happened, and they did interview the suspect that is identified in social media at the event. They have no video.”
He said police are being cautious before making accusations. “We need to do the same; and not let this become a spark that starts an inferno,” he wrote.
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 of political debate, CAIR-LA and the Muslim community stand with the Jewish community in rejecting any and all violence, antisemitism, Islamophobia, or incitement of hatred,” the statement said.
Since the war between Israel and Hamas broke out last month protests have been held around the world over the deaths of thousands. Hamas militants have been condemned for invading Israel and killing and kidnaping civilians while Israel has been accused of indiscriminate bombing that has killed many civilians in Gaza.