A Win For Those Lost: Federal Judge Denys Plea Deal For Ghost Ship Operators

After nearly two years of litigation against the landlord and operators of the now infamous fire that took 36 lives away—justice is being served.

An Alameda County Superior Court judge rejected a plea deal Friday morning for the master tenant of the “Ghost Ship” warehouse in Oakland, Derick Ion Almena. As we reported back in December of 2016, the Fruitvale building itself was constructed out of entirely wood and wasn’t up to code with the city of Oakland. Almena had been told repeated times to bring his building standards up to the minimum code standards or risk losing the building and it’s 45+ tenants. 

When prosecutors charged Almena and Max Harris, the building’s “creative director”, last year, they wrote that the building was not permitted to be used as a residence or event space, and the build out violated numerous fire codes by using fence boards, shingles, window frames and other bits of dry wood. Almena rented space in the warehouse to up to 25 people, charging between $350 and $1,400 per month. Harris assisted him in collecting rent. They also rented out the upstairs as an event space, where as many as 100 people would attend parties.

Almena had reached a plea deal with prosecutors to serve nine years in jail for the fire there that killed 36 people in 2016. But Judge James Cramer rejected the plea deal after the victims’ families criticized the short sentence, according to KTVU. The fire to-date is the deadliest in California since the Great San Francisco Earthquake in 1906.

Almena and Harris were both charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter and could face a sentence of up to 39 years in prison if convicted. But the story doesn’t end there for the spared victims and their families, A lawsuit filed last year against Almena, Harris, property owner Chor Ng, the promoters of the party, Alameda County, the state of California and Pacific Gas & Electric, is still pending in Alameda County Superior Court.

// Ghost Ship illustration by Ryan Casey for The Rolling Stones. Have a personal story about the fire? Share it with us in our tipline.

Photo via the Alameda Sheriff's DepartmentPhoto via the Alameda Sheriff's Department

Photo via the Alameda Sheriff’s Department

A Win For Those Lost: Federal Judge Denys Plea Deal For Ghost Ship Operators
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