California authorities investigate death of 69-year-old pro-Israel protester

Nov. 7 (UPI) -- Authorities in Ventura County, Calif., are trying to determine the circumstances surrounding the death of a man who died Tuesday shortly after receiving a head injury while attending a pro-Israel rally Monday.

The man who died is 69-year-old Paul Kessler, according to Ventura County law enforcement.

"At 3:22 p.m., one of our patrol sergeants arrived on scene, at 3:24 p.m. two additional patrol deputies arrived on scene. The seargent contacted the victim, identified as 69-year-old Paul Kessler, a Thousand Oaks resident, who was lying on the ground. Mr. Kessler was conscious and responsive. The seargent observed what he saw was bleeding from the head and mouth," Ventura County Sheriff Jim Fryhoff told reporters Tuesday.

Fryhoff said Kessler received treatment from Ventura County Fire Department medical personnel, and that he was conscious when he was taken to the hospital.

"At 2:53 [a.m.] a patrol deputy and sergeant arrived at the hospital and were told Mr. Kessler had succumbed to his injuries," Fryhoff said.

An autopsy was performed at the Ventura County Medical Examiner's office.

Police said witnesses reported an altercation prior to Kessler's fatal injury, but it is unclear if he was stuck or fell down.

"The suspect was identified, willingly remained at the scene, and was interviewed by deputies. The suspect was cooperative and indicated he was involved in an altercation with Mr. Kessler," Fryhoff continued. "The suspect further stated that he was one of the reporting parties who called 911 requesting medical attention for Mr. Kessler."

Though police have identified an unnamed suspect, they have yet to determine if a crime was committed.

The suspect was detained during a traffic stop Monday and was released shortly afterward. Detectives also executed a search warrant on his property.

"The suspect in this case is a 50-year-old who resides in Warring Park and was at the intersection advocating for Palestine," Fryhoff told reporters. "The suspect has not been arrested, no arrests have been made related to this incident, and the suspect has not been identified publicly."

"Investigators have not ruled out the possibility of a hate crime, and this is being investigated as a homicide," Fryhoff said.

Though the death has been ruled a homicide, the definition does not necessarily imply criminality.

"We will do everything in our power using every resource we have at our disposal to make sense of this incident. And if criminal wrongdoing is discovered to bring the person, or persons responsible to justice," Fryhoff said.

According to Fryhoff, witnesses gave conflicting accounts of the confrontation.

"Some of the witnesses were pro-Palestine while others were pro-Israel. During the investigation at the scene, deputies determined that the altercation with Mr. Kessler, he fell backwards and struck his head on the ground. What exactly transpired prior to Mr. Kessler falling backwards isn't crystal clear right now," said Fryhoff.

Ventura County Police Capt. Dean Worthy asked members of the public to come forward with any video footage they might have of the altercation.

"To members of the public who were at the event: If you have videos or photos of the incident, we encourage you to provide those to our office. You can remain anonymous if you choose to. We have established user-friendly links to upload the footage," said Worthy.