((JEWISH REVIEW)) — After a suspect was arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter and battery in the death of a pro-Israel protester near Los Angeles earlier this month, Ventura County District Attorney Erik Nasarenko said that his office has “not ruled out a hate crime” in the case.
But he added that at present, based on what the police know, the death does not appear to be a hate crime.
“Simply put, looking at the statements as well as the words that accompany this act, we cannot at this time meet the elements of a hate crime,” he said at a Friday morning press conference. “But nevertheless, we will continue to explore and investigate that offense as well as that special allegation.”
Kessler’s death has received widespread attention as it has come during Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza as well as during a reported spike in antisemitism in the United States following the outbreak of the war. A number of prominent pro-Israel activists have claimed that his death was motivated by antisemitism.
Loay Abdelfattah Alnaji, 50, of Moorpark, California, was arrested Thursday morning in the case and charged with two felony counts — involuntary manslaughter and battery causing serious bodily injury. His bail was set for $1 million, and he will be arraigned Friday afternoon. The charge of involuntary manslaughter implies that there was no proven intent to murder, Nasarenko said.
But Nasarenko said each count was accompanied by the “special allegation that in the commission of those crimes, the defendant personally inflicted great bodily injury upon Paul Kessler.” Nasarenko added that those allegations “elevate these offenses to strikes under California’s three-strikes law, which makes punishment prison-eligible.”
Regarding the hate crime determination, Nasarenko said the investigators are specifically looking into “whether or not the acts, the impact, the force, was accompanied by specific hate speech, specific statements or words that demonstrate antipathy or hatred toward a specific group.” He said there are still outstanding search warrants in the case, and nine have so far been executed.
Sheriff James Fryhoff said the investigation has thus far gotten statements from 60 witnesses and that his team has reviewed 600 pieces of evidence. He said the investigation, which began within 24 hours of Kessler’s death on Nov. 5, has so far comprised more than 2,000 hours of work by his investigators. He encouraged anyone with information or footage of the incident to come forward.
Nasarenko also thanked Ventura County’s Jewish and Muslim leaders, saying that they have “shown restraint” and respect as the investigation is underway.
Fryhoff and Nasarenko also met virtually with Kessler’s family on Thursday, they said.
“They are mourning. They are grieving. And they are asking for privacy for this very difficult period,” Nasarenko said.
He added that while Kessler’s Israel advocacy has received considerable attention since the altercation took place nearly two weeks ago, he wanted to share additional information about Kessler, “because in this process, we should never forget that human life was taken, and that a victim exists.”
Nasarenko highlighted that Kessler had worked in medical sales for decades and had taught sales and marketing at a number of colleges. He was a pilot, and had been married for 43 years. He left behind a son.
“We want to continue to remember and honor Paul Kessler, and the tragic loss of life that has occurred,” Nasarenko said.