Today, June 5, Ghost Ship master tenant Derick Almena and warehouse tenant Max Harris were arrested on suspicion of 36 counts of manslaughter, according to a report from East Bay Times. The arrests come in the aftermath of the fire in December 2016, which killed three dozen people during a party for the 100% Silk imprint at Ghost Ship’s warehouse and arts space in Oakland, CA.
Derick Almena was arrested today in Lake County, CA.
According to EBT, Almena’s role in the collective involved “helping decide who lived and worked there while collecting rent that was passed on to [property owner] Chor Ng.” Harris, who EBT reports also goes by the name Max Ohr, was described as Ghost Ship’s creative director in a tweet this morning breaking news of the arrests from SF Chronicle reporter Evan Sernoffsky.
BREAKING: #GhostShip master tenant, Derick Almena, creative director, Max Harris arrested on susp. of 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter
— Evan Sernoffsky (@EvanSernoffsky) June 5, 2017
The charges reportedly do not mention Chor Ng, according to sources for EBT, nor do they address her son Kai and daughter Eva, who the outlet reports managed the warehouse for their mother. In March, a series of emails between the arrested parties and Kai Ng were made public.
In the correspondences, which took place in February of 2015, Almena wrote that the electric wiring of the building “ancient and violated lines of distribution” and “in dire need of a total and immediate upgrade.” Following Kai’s response that the ‘lack of electrical infrastructure was made very clear before [the tenants’] lease began,” Harris noted the danger of “overexertion” on the building’s electrical supply.
The Ghost Ship creative director also said the following comment to The Mercury News upon their publication of the emails’ subject matter: “Kai Ng totally sidestepped my expression of needing stability. I said it was terminal and was getting worse, and he just asked for more money.”
Photo of the Ghost Ship fire via Allen Weddington/CNN.
The emails show that Almena and Harris had demonstrable knowledge of the safety hazards which eventually lead to last December’s disaster. The organizers’ decision to continue hosting events in the space for over a year without adequately addressing the dangerous electrical issues makes a strong case for the charges levied against them.
Inspector Christina Harbison, in her declaration in support of probable cause filed against Harris, further claims that Almena altered the warehouse in numerous ways which violate the Oakland Municipal code and California Fire Safety code. Among these violations was “the construction of an unsafe staircase from the first floor to the second floor, connected by “a ramp or ‘gang plank’,” and described by witnesses as “dangerous and narrow, only allowing a group of people to travel up or down the stairs in a single file.”
Harbison’s filing also notes that on the night of the fire, 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.”
“Because of the fire,” Harbison continues, “the power in the building went out and the guests that could escape were forced down the narrow makeshift stairs in complete darkness.”
Harbison summarizes her argument of probable cause for manslaughter against the defendants in her filing’s conclusion:
“Almena’s and Harris’ actions were reckless, creating a high risk of death. A reasonable person would have known that acting in that way would create such risk. Their actions were so different from the way an ordinarily careful person would act in the same situation that their actions amounted to a disregard for human life. Their reckless actions were the proximate cause of the death of the 36 individuals trapped inside the warehouse when the fire started.”
View Harbison’s full statement below:
Dancing Astronaut will update this story as it continues to develop.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of the article printed today’s date as January 5, rather than the correct publication date of June 5.
Featured image via Jim Wilson/New York Times/Redux.