Prosecutors to charge California man in death of Jewish protester

By Jonathan Allen

(Reuters) -A California man was arrested on Thursday and set to be charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of a Jewish man who fell to the ground during an altercation at pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian street demonstrations earlier this month.

Paul Kessler, 69, died of blunt force head trauma a day after he fell and hit his head on the ground at the Nov. 5 protests in Thousand Oaks, about 35 miles (55 km) west of Los Angeles. A medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.

On Thursday, deputies from the Ventura County sheriff’s office arrested Loay Alnaji, 50, at his home in Moorpark on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter, and he was booked at a county jail.

Ventura County District Attorney Erik Nasarenko later said in a statement that two felony charges would be filed against Alnaji, involuntary manslaughter and battery, each of which carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison.

It was not immediately clear whether Alnaji was represented by a lawyer who could offer a statement in his defense.

Last week, Sheriff Jim Fryhoff said Alnaji, then a suspect whose name had not been publicly released, had called 911 to report the fall and waited at the scene to answer investigators’ questions.

Kessler was conscious when taken to a hospital for his injury and spoke with investigators while there, the sheriff said. He declined to say what Kessler told officers.

Witnesses had provided conflicting accounts about who was the aggressor in the incident, the sheriff said last week. The medical examiner’s office said Kessler had non-lethal injuries to the left side of his face, which could indicate that he was hit before falling, but that it was not certain that this was the case.

The incident took place at one of the frequent, impassioned street protests that have been organized in cities across the U.S. and around the world over the military conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

The dual protests in Thousand Oaks drew about 100 people from each side, Fryhoff said, and no other incidents were reported.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad, California;Editing by Bill Berkrot)