Two men, leaseholder Derick Almena and tenant Max Harris, were each charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter, according to CNN. The charges were announced by Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. The charges are in connection with the unsafe conditions at a Fruitvale, Oakland warehouse which caught fire during an electronic music event put on the by record label 100% Silk. The space, which doubled as an artist collective and housed up to 25 tenants, became a smokey labyrinth that was difficult to escape once it caught fire.
Harris and Almena each face up to 39 years in prison if convicted of the charges filed against them by the county. According to a probably cause document, Harris served as a middleman for Almena, collecting rent and relaying other communications between the lease holder and the tenants. The document calls him the “creative director” of Ghost Ship, which the warehouse was colloquially known as.
Almena’s attorney’s issued this response to the charges being brought against their client: “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.”
According to the statement from O’Malley, the basis for the charges stems from the fact that the two men created a fire trap in the warehouse, with tenant’s belongings creating barriers and false walls being constructed without permits. One of the building’s two entrances was blocked at the time of the fire, making it nearly impossible for victims to escape the inferno. She specified that the men “knowingly” created these conditions and now must face the consequences. The same probable cause document states that Almena encouraged tenants in the building to use unconventional building materials, much of it highly flammable and made from wood.
In addition to these criminal charges being filed against Almena and Harris, one family of the victims are also seeking action civilly. They brought a suit against label 100% Silk, performer Golden Donna, the landlord Chor Nar Siu Ng, Almena and another tenant named Micah Allison, the local Oakland government and others in December of 2016.