OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Master tenant Derick Almena and warehouse tenant Max Harris have been arrested on 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter in conjunction with the deadly Dec. 2 Ghost Ship warehouse fire, prosecutors announced Monday.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said a team of two attorneys, three district attorney investigators and others were involved in the case.
The investigative team conducted in excess of 75 individual witness interviews, executed more than 12 search warrants, reviewed more than 6,000 thousand pages of investigative reports, and examined and catalogued over 300 individual pieces of physical evidence.
“Defendants Almena and Harris knowingly created a fire trap with inadequate means of escape, filled it with human beings, and are now facing the consequences of their deadly actions,” O’Malley said.
Almena’s bail was set at over $1 million.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf released a statement following O’Malley’s announcement saying she applauded the filing of charges because it sends the message that “you won’t get away with making a profit by cramming people into dangerous spaces or failing to maintain safe living conditions.”
“The reckless and deceptive actions of Derick Almena and Max Harris claimed 36 innocent lives,” Schaaf added. “For years, they worked hard to escape legal scrutiny and deceive City officials. Because of their callous disregard for human life, they deserve to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Almena’s attorneys, Jeffrey Krasnoff, Kydra Miller and J. Tony Serra, issued their own brief statement Monday afternoon. “We intend to vigorously defend him in the court of law. We believe that these charges represent no less than a miscarriage of justice, and we are confident that this attempt to make a scapegoat out of our client will fail.”
The declaration of probable cause against Almena and Harris said the two acted knowingly and with disregard for the risk when they:
- Allowed individuals to live in the warehouse and deceived the police, fire department and owners about that fact
- Allowed large groups to assemble in the warehouse for musical events in the space and on December 2nd, 2016 they actually blocked one of two means of exit
- Conducted unpermitted and uninspected construction, including electrical work
- Allowed the floor to ceiling storage of large quantities of highly flammable materials that created a deadly and dangerous space
O’Malley said Almena’s and Harris’ actions were reckless, creating a high risk of death and that a reasonable person would have known that acting in that way would create such risk.
She said the families of the victims have been told that charges has been filed in the case.
The FBI assisted in taking Almena into custody Monday morning in Lake County. Harris was arrested in Los Angeles.
Almena was in charge of the Ghost Warehouse artist collective and was responsible for the concert that was being staged on Dec. 2 when the fire broke out in the artist workplace/living facility.
Harris has described himself as Almena’s second-in-command and said he would collect rent when Almena was away. He is accused of helping plan the December concert where the fire broke out.
According to a court filing, on the night of the fire, Harris rented the upstairs space to a promoter to host an electronic dance music event. According to a witness and Harris himself, he was responsible for allowing the event to take place at the warehouse.
“Harris prepared the warehouse for the event that day,” the document read. “In the course of his preparation, Harris blocked off an area of the second floor that included a second stairwell, which effectively reduced the upstairs guests to a single point of escape.”
In all, 36 people died when they were trapped in the old warehouse and could not escape the deadly smoke and flames. One person remains hospitalized with several damage to their lungs.