Ventura County Sheriff: “Conflicting” Information on Altercation That Killed Paul Kessler

The sheriff's office  has not yet ruled out a hate crime or the possibility of other suspects.
November 7, 2023

Ventura County Sheriff Jim Fryhoff said in a press conference on Tuesday morning that there is “conflicting” information on the exact nature of the altercation with a pro-Palestinian protester on Sunday that led to the death of a 69-year-old Jewish man Paul Kessler.

Fryhoff said that at around 3:20 pm on Sunday, the sheriff’s office receival several calls of an assault and unconscious man bleeding that was “related to a rally or demonstration that was occurring.” Flyers showed that a pro-Palestinian protest and pro-Israel counterprotest was occurring at the intersection of Westlake Boulevard and Thousand Oaks Boulevard. Officers arrived the scene a couple of minutes later, where they found Kessler, who had been protesting in support of Israel, was lying on the ground, conscious and responsive. Kessler was “bleeding on the head and mouth,” Fryhoff said.

The suspect, who Fryhoff said is a 50-year-old man from Moorpark and a pro-Palestinian protester, remained at the scene and was interviewed by deputies. The suspect admitted to being a part of the altercation and was one of the people who called 911. Fryhoff said that several witnesses were interviewed about the confrontation and they “provided conflicting statements” as to what exactly happened and how it started. Kessler “fell backward and hit his head on the ground,” Fryhoff said, but it was unclear what led up to that moment.

Police obtained a search warrant for the suspect’s home, and the suspect was detained while they searched the home, but the suspect was later released, according to Fryhoff. Fryhoff said that the suspect has been cooperative with law enforcement. No arrests have been made yet and the investigation remains ongoing. Police have not yet ruled out a hate crime or the possibility of other suspects, per Fryhoff.

Ventura County Medical Examiner Dr. Christopher Young said during the press conference that the investigation  into Kessler’s death remains ongoing and that Kessler succumbed to his injuries at around 1:10 a.m. on Monday. Kessler had nonlethal injuries on the left side of his face and additional injuries to the back of the head that Young said are “typical of injuries sustained from a fall.” Young confirmed that the injury to the back of the head was the lethal injury that ultimately killed Kessler. CT scans at the hospital revealed that Kessler had intercranial injuries including swelling and hemorrhaging of the brain.

“Cause of death has been certified as blunt force head trauma,” Young said. “The manner of death is homicide.” However, Young clarified that the medical conclusion that the cause of death was homicide “does not indicate that a crime has been committed,” as that is for the District Attorney’s Office to decide. A “homicide” simply means that “the actions of another person” contributed to the death, Young said.

Fryhoff later said that it is currently unclear how exactly Kessler and the suspect interacted before Kessler hit his head. The police currently don’t know if a “blow to the face” is what caused the fall. Addressing claims that Kessler was bludgeoned to death with a megaphone, Fryhoff said the police don’t have any information whether they recovered a megaphone from the suspect; however, Fryhoff did say that the medical examiner’s office has acknowledged the possibility that the injuries to Kessler’s face “could have been caused by a megaphone.” But Fryhoff said they don’t have any further information on that. Police also don’t have any information on if Kessler and the suspect had any prior interactions before Sunday.

Fifteen minutes prior to the altercation, Fryhoff said that the Thousand Oaks police chief drove through the area and saw 30 people there and nothing to indicate that violence was about to occur; police had been driving by the area periodically to keep tabs on the protest. Both organizations behind the protests had posted to social media beforehand encouraging people to remain peace, according to Fryhoff.

Fryhoff asked for the public’s help in providing further information that could bring more clarity to what happened during the altercation. “We urge you to remain calm and peaceful and patient,” he said. He also vowed that the sheriff’s office would bring the people responsible to “justice” if they discover “criminal wrongdoing.”

This is a developing story. We will update as we hear more.

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