OAKLAND (CBS SF) — With legal showdowns on the horizon, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf echoed her belief Saturday that the city bears no liability in Dec. 2016’s deadly Ghost Ship Warehouse fire.
On Friday, Alameda County Superior Court Judge James Cramer rejected a plea deal for Derick Almena and Max Harris, who are charged with 36 counts of manslaughter in the deadly blaze.
The rejection came after Cramer was angered by statements made in court by Almena.
“There are those crippled with hate and ridicule. Those who will never recognize me and my family as a victim,” Almena said in his statement. “I’m a victim and a witness.”
Cramer said the statement showed no remorse in the wake of the fire that killed 36 people attending an illegal concert inside the warehouse.
The plea deal had called for Almena to be sentenced to nine years in prison and 28-year-old Max Harris to six years. The judge said he found Harris to be sincere but because the plea bargain was for both Harris and Almena, both pleas were rejected.
Many of the victims families are also suing Oakland and others in civil court. They heralded Cramer’s decision saying a criminal trial will bring facts to the surface.
“We would start getting the answers and we would be able to take those answers and hold our city accountable for very specific things,
said Terry Ewing, whose girlfriend died in the fire. “Right now, we only have vague generalizations that we can try to hold them accountable.”
Among the families hopes is that landlord Chor Ng will be forced to testify. There are also police body cam videos of visits to the warehouse before the fire where officers question the legality of the living arrangement in the building.
Schaap told KPIX 5 on Saturday, she did not belief the city has any financial liability in the wake of the fire.
“We do not believe we bear any liability,” she said. “These two individuals who knowingly did things to this building to make it unsafe, that is where the focus of the trial should lie.”
She added that the court’s will ultimately decide who is responsible.
“The issue of where blame placed among the many entities and individuals involved in this tragedy is one that the court’s will work out,” she said.