OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Two Oakland police officers testified Thursday that Ghost Ship warehouse master tenant Derick Almena told them that no one lived at the
warehouse, where 36 people died in a fire in 2016.

Officer Jonathan Low said when he responded to a call at the warehouse at 1309 31st Ave. on Jan. 31, 2016, he asked Almena if anyone lived there and Almena said no one did.

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Alameda County prosecutors played footage from Low’s body camera in which Almena said, “They’re all artists. All of the artists sign a contract saying this is not a residence.”

Former officer Tye Kushner, who is now retired, said when he went to the warehouse on Dec. 3, 2014, Almena also told him that no one lived there.

In footage from Kushner’s body camera that was shown to jurors, Almena said, “There a rule here: don’t get your mail here.”

The officers’ testimony came in the third week of the trial for Almena and Ghost Ship creative director Max Harris, 29, on 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter, one for each person who died in the fire during a music party at the warehouse late on the night of Dec. 2, 2016.

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Prosecutors allege that Almena and Harris are criminally liable for the fire because there was no time and no way for the people at the party to escape since the warehouse didn’t have important safeguards, such as fire extinguishers, smoke alarms and exit signs.

Prosecutors also say Almena and Harris violated the terms of the warehouse’s lease by turning it into a living space where up to 25 people stayed and hosting underground music parties there.

But defense attorneys for Almena and Harris allege that the fire was an act of arson that Harris and Almena couldn’t have prevented.

Defense lawyers also say much of the blame for the fire should be placed on other people, such as the building’s owners and police and fire officials who they say knew about the dangers at the warehouse and didn’t take action to correct them, such as citing Almena and Harris or ordering them to make the building safer.

Almena’s lawyer Brian Getz pursued that theme by asking Low if there’s a code section for illegally living at a warehouse.

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Low said he doesn’t know of such a code and doesn’t know if anyone in Oakland has been cited in recent years for such a possible code violation.