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‘Conflicting’ testimonies complicate investigation into death of Jewish man after California rallies

A suspect in the clash that led to the death of a Jewish man injured during Israeli-Palestinian rallies in California was ‘cooperative,’ was briefly detained and called 911 for medical help for the victim, officials said Tuesday.

But investigating authorities declined to identify the suspect or call the incident a hate crime, saying they were still trying to piece together the causes of the dispute.

Paul Kessler, 69, died Monday, a day after attending a pro-Israel rally in Thousand Oaks, California, where he got into a “physical altercation” with “counterprotesters,” witnesses told the Ventura County Sheriff. Desk. Kessler was allegedly hit in the head by a megaphone held by a pro-Palestinian protester, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles said in a statement. statement.

Passersby tend to Paul Kessler, lying on the sidewalk, after he fell and hit his head during a clash with demonstrators supporting the Palestinians.RMG

Kessler allegedly fell backwards and hit his head on the ground during the altercation.

When police and EMS arrived on the scene, they found Kessler on the ground, Sheriff Jim Fryhoff told reporters. He was conscious and able to speak with deputies, the sheriff added.

The suspect, aged 50, “voluntarily remained” at the scene and was questioned by police, Fryhoff said.

Detectives obtained a search warrant for him and his Moorpark residence Monday, according to the sheriff, who did not specify what investigators were looking for during the search. He was arrested and released more than an hour after a traffic stop in Simi Valley.

As of Tuesday afternoon, no arrests had been made in this case.

Fryhoff said what led to Kessler’s downfall is not “perfectly clear at this time.”

The sheriff said interviews with witnesses resulted in “conflicting” accounts. He asked the public and witnesses to come forward with photos or videos and tips about what happened.

An autopsy conducted Monday determined the cause of death to be head trauma caused by a blunt object and the manner of death as homicide — which is defined as death at the hands of another person but does not suggest wrongdoing.

“Homicide manner of death does not indicate a crime was committed – that is determined by the prosecutor’s office,” Ventura County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Christopher Young said.

Young said the autopsy revealed Kessler suffered injuries consistent with a fall.

The sheriff’s office said Monday it was investigating the incident and “has not ruled out the possibility of a hate crime.”

The FBI is in communication with the sheriff’s office to determine the circumstances of Kessler’s death, an office spokesperson said Tuesday.

Photos on social media showed Kessler, before the altercation, waving an Israeli flag at an intersection. Another image showed him receiving treatment on a sidewalk at 3:20 p.m. (6:20 p.m. ET), his head resting on a bloody homemade sign.

The incident comes as tensions from the war between Israel and Hamas in the Middle East have spilled over into the United States. A month has passed since the surprise Hamas terrorist attack that Israel says killed 1,400 people, including 240 still held hostage in the Gaza Strip. More than 1.5 million people have been displaced in Gaza, and health officials say more than 10,000 people have been killed as Israel bombards the Palestinian enclave from the air and attacks it on the ground.

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Fryhoff said Tuesday that patrols would be increased around mosques, Muslim community centers as well as Jewish community centers.

“We want to assure the Muslim and Jewish communities that we stand with them during these difficult times,” he said, citing the war.

Kyle Jorrey, former editor of a local newspaper, the Thousand Oaks Acorn, said Kessler wrote letters to the paper “all the time.”

“What I can say is he was passionate about political issues (liberal causes) and wasn’t afraid to let people know how he felt,” he told NBC on Tuesday News.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all that he was a counter-protester, even at his age. He attended many demonstrations related to progressive causes. “He wrote to us regularly for over 20 years on topics ranging from climate change to ‘fake news’ to the Covid vaccine and he had a sharp mind and pulled no punches,” he said. added.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass addressed Kessler’s death in a statement Tuesday, saying it was “a significant blow to our region at a time when tensions continue to rise around the world “.

She added: “We must redouble our efforts to ensure that violence and hatred lead to accountability and consequences. Los Angeles refuses to harbor this hatred.”

As Kessler’s injury during the dueling protests sparked a social media frenzy and drew swift condemnation from Israeli leaders who called his death an act of anti-Semitism, local authorities called for the caution and patience during the investigation.

“We are deeply saddened by this tragic and shocking loss,” the Council on American-Islamic Relations Greater Los Angeles office said Monday. “We join local Jewish leaders in calling on all individuals to refrain from jumping to conclusions, sensationalizing such a tragedy for political purposes, or spreading rumors that could unnecessarily escalate tensions that are already at stake. an unprecedented level.”

“We urge everyone to wait until the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office completes its investigation before drawing any conclusions. Our thoughts are with the family and the Jewish community during this difficult time,” the statement continued, adding that CAIR-LA and the Muslim community stand with the Jewish community in rejecting violence, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

In a post on X, Rabbi Michael Barclay of Ner Simcha Temple, near where the incident took place, called for patience.

“Please don’t make assumptions or accusations until the police can do their job and/or we have actual video,” he wrote.

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