California Man Pleads Not Guilty In Death Of Protestor

A California man pleaded not guilty Friday in the death of a Jewish protestor who hit his head after falling during an altercation between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrators earlier this month.

Loay Alnaji, 50, was arrested Thursday in his Moorpark home by deputies from the Ventura County sheriff’s office. He was later charged with two felony charges — involuntary manslaughter and battery causing serious bodily injury — each carrying a maximum of four years in prison.

Murder charges were not filed because there was no evidence that Alnaji attended the protest with the “intent to kill, harm or injure anyone,” according to Ventura County District Attorney Erik Nasarenko.

His bail was set at $50,000. Alnaji is also a citizen of Jordan and was ordered to surrender his passport.

Alnaji, a professor in the Ventura County Community College District, is accused of getting into a physical altercation with 69-year-old Paul Kessler on November 5, causing him to fall back and hit his head.

Kessler died the next day due to blunt force head trauma, according to the autopsy. The medical examiner also found non-lethal bruising to the left side of his face, an indication that he may have been struck prior to falling.

It was reported that Alnaji allegedly struck Kessler in the head with a megaphone, causing him to fall backward.

Nasarenko stated that investigators had reviewed more than 60 witness statements and more than 600 pieces of evidence, including video clips that together offered a “clear sequence of events leading up to the confrontation.”

Ron Bamieh, a lawyer representing Alnaji, reported that Kessler “got in the face of many of the protesters,” including Alnaji. He said that Kessler stuck his phone in Alnaji’s face and he “brushed” it away.

Bamieh said that his client is a “man of peace.” He reported that Alnaji was cooperative with police and even called 911 when he realized that Kessler was hurt.

Nasarenko reported that authorities are currently investigating whether the incident was a hate crime.