Sheriff: Man Involved in Deadly Altercation With Jewish Protester Not Arrested

Sheriff: Man Involved in Deadly Altercation With Jewish Protester Not Arrested

Paramedics assist Paul Kessler, 69, after he sustained a head injury during a fight with a pro-Palestinian protester in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 5, 2023. Mr. Kessler died in the hospital on Nov. 6. (Courtesy of Rabbi Mark Blazer)

Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

11/7/2023

Updated: 12/30/2023

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif.—The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office has launched a homicide investigation into the death of Paul Kessler, 69, after he sustained a fatal head injury during a fight with a pro-Palestinian protester Nov. 5 in Thousand Oaks, California, Sheriff James Fryhoff announced at a press conference on Tuesday.
So far, only one suspect has been identified, the sheriff said, a man who told law enforcement at the scene that he was involved in the altercation with Mr. Kessler.
He is described as a 50-year-old resident of Moorpark, California, about 18 miles north of Thousand Oaks. He was one of the people who called 9-1-1 to get help for Mr. Kessler and was cooperative with investigators by answering questions at the scene. He has not been arrested or identified publicly, according to the sheriff.
After Mr. Kessler died on Monday, detectives pulled the suspect over in a car, and he was detained and questioned. He was then released about an hour later. Detectives also obtained a search warrant for his residence.
If investigators uncover criminal wrongdoing, the sheriff vowed to “do everything in our power, using every resource we have at our disposal ... to bring the person or persons responsible to justice.”
Investigators are also not ruling out hate crime charges, said Mr. Fryhoff.
Law enforcement is on the scene after Paul Kessler, 69, suffered a head injury amid pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian protests in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 5, 2023. Mr. Kessler died in the hospital on Nov. 6. (Courtesy of Rabbi Mark Blazer)

Law enforcement is on the scene after Paul Kessler, 69, suffered a head injury amid pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian protests in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 5, 2023. Mr. Kessler died in the hospital on Nov. 6. (Courtesy of Rabbi Mark Blazer)

On Sunday afternoon, the victim Mr. Kessler, who lived in Thousand Oaks, came out to the intersection at Westlake and Thousand Oaks boulevards—a popular spot for protests—where about 75–100 pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel demonstrators were holding opposing rallies.
According to Rabbi Moshe Bryski, executive director of Chabad of Agoura Hills, he was told Mr. Kessler was carrying his Israeli flag to join in the pro-Israel rally when someone from the pro-Palestinian group tried to grab it. Someone may have also hit him in the head with a megaphone, Mr. Bryski told The Epoch Times.
The rabbi said it looked to him like a hate crime occurred. “When someone comes with an Israeli flag to an event and comes back dead, that sounds like hate to me,” he said. “It’s a reminder to all that hate does not have any boundaries.”
Members of the Southern California Jewish community are sad, outraged, and concerned about the event, according to Rabbi Moshe Bryski, who attended Tuesday’s press conference.
“This has always been a beautiful community,” Mr. Bryski told The Epoch Times. “It’s a beautiful Jewish community. For something to take place that shouldn’t take place anywhere in the world, to take place in the Conejo Valley, it’s just a shock to the system.”
Rabbi Moshe Bryski speaks with a member of the Jewish Press outside the Ventura County Sheriff’s East County Station in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 7, 2023. Mr. Bryski attended the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office press conference about the death of Paul Kessler, 69, a Jewish man from Thousand Oaks, who died following a fight with a pro-Palestinian demonstrator Nov. 5. (Jill McLaughlin/The Epoch Times)

Rabbi Moshe Bryski speaks with a member of the Jewish Press outside the Ventura County Sheriff’s East County Station in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 7, 2023. Mr. Bryski attended the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office press conference about the death of Paul Kessler, 69, a Jewish man from Thousand Oaks, who died following a fight with a pro-Palestinian demonstrator Nov. 5. (Jill McLaughlin/The Epoch Times)

Mr. Kessler died just after 1 a.m. Monday at Paso Robles Medical Center, leaving behind a wife, a son, and a daughter-in-law.
Ventura County medical Examiner Christopher Young determined he suffered a traumatic brain injury that caused swelling and bleeding in his brain, he said at the press conference.
Mr. Kessler also had injuries on the left side of his face that could be from being hit by a megaphone, according to Mr. Young, which some witnesses say happened.
Although the medical examiner has determined Mr. Kessler’s cause of death was homicide, meaning it occurred at the hands of another person, the medical term does not mean that a crime was committed, Mr. Young added. That determination is made by the county’s district attorney, he said.
Conflicting witness accounts at the scene Sunday have prompted sheriff’s detectives to ask for the public’s help to determine what happened.
Investigators also don’t know who started the fight, Mr. Fryhoff told The Epoch Times.
When deputies arrived on scene just after 3:20 p.m., Mr. Kessler was lying on the ground bleeding from his head and mouth, the sheriff described. He was conscious and answered questions as he was transported by paramedics to the hospital. Witnesses told police he fell backwards during the fight and struck his head on the ground.
A man prays as flowers and candles are placed at the intersection where a protest on Nov. 5 led to the death of a Jewish man after an altercation with a pro-Palestinian man at a demonstration in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 7, 2023. (David Swanson/AFP via Getty Images)

A man prays as flowers and candles are placed at the intersection where a protest on Nov. 5 led to the death of a Jewish man after an altercation with a pro-Palestinian man at a demonstration in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 7, 2023. (David Swanson/AFP via Getty Images)

Mr. Kessler died in an area hospital on Monday.
The investigation is ongoing, and authorities want to make sure they have all of the evidence before determining whether a crime was committed, Mr. Fryhoff said.
The sheriff encouraged those who attended the rallies or had video or witnessed the event to reach out to the sheriff’s office. Anonymous tips may be given to Crime Stoppers (1-800-222-TIPS). Videos or pictures can be shared anonymously through the sheriff’s office’s website.
About 15 minutes before the fight, the Thousand Oaks police chief drove through the area to check on the demonstrations. Only about 30 people were protesting at the time and it was determined that no additional resources were needed, according to the sheriff. Patrol officers also drive by frequently to check it, he said.
“The event was not preventable,” Mr. Fryhoff said.
Sunday’s event was the third such protest since Oct. 7 at the location, the sheriff said. Twenty-one protests have been held since Hamas invaded Israel Oct. 7, which prompted the ongoing conflict between Israel and the terrorist organization in Gaza.
No other protests held in the county have resulted in any injuries since last month.
Sunday’s incident was a “rare occurrence” in the county, according to sheriff’s department spokesman Cyrus Zadeh.
A demonstrator holds a sign at a makeshift memorial at the site of an altercation between 69-year-old Paul Kessler, who was Jewish, and a pro-Palestinian protestor in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 7, 2023. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A demonstrator holds a sign at a makeshift memorial at the site of an altercation between 69-year-old Paul Kessler, who was Jewish, and a pro-Palestinian protestor in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 7, 2023. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

“The Ventura County community is amazing,” Mr. Zadeh told The Epoch Times. “The community protests. They get their messages out there. And rarely does it lead to any type of violence or altercations.”
Dan Meisel, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Santa Barbara/Tri-Counties in Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties, said his organization was very concerned about the incident.
“This is the most tragic incident to occur with our Jewish community since Oct. 7 in the U.S.,” Mr. Meisel told The Epoch Times. “It’s a moment to express concern about the incendiary rhetoric that we’re hearing at protests related to the war between Israel and Hamas.”
The ADL has seen a dramatic increase in reports of antisemitic incidents in the three counties of Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo since the war started last month, he added.
“Many members of the Jewish community may say that it feels more dangerous to be Jewish in America,” he said. “But we cannot let incidents like this silence us or stop us from expressing the pride and support for Israel and its right to exist.”
Imam Muhammed Mehtar, a religious director at the Islamic Center of Conejo Valley which saddles Los Angeles and Ventura counties, condemned the violence and said in a blog post about the incident Tuesday that attempts to import the strife of the Israel-Palestine conflict into the Thousand Oaks community was disheartening.
“It’s essential to recognize that no religion or belief system promotes violence between neighbors, regardless of their faith,” he said. “In our diverse society, we must unite, unanimously rejecting aggression and advocating for peace and open dialogue to resolve differences.”
A person lights a candle at a makeshift memorial at the site of an altercation between 69-year-old Paul Kessler, who was Jewish, and pro-Palestinian protestor in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 7, 2023. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A person lights a candle at a makeshift memorial at the site of an altercation between 69-year-old Paul Kessler, who was Jewish, and pro-Palestinian protestor in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 7, 2023. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A previous version of this article misstated the name of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Santa Barbara/Tri-Counties. The Epoch Times regrets the error.
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Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

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Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.

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