Attorneys representing Derick Almena, manager of the “Ghost Ship” warehouse destroyed in a fire that also claimed 36 lives earlier this month, are proclaiming their client as innocent even before he’s charged with a crime.
“Our investigation shows that Derick Almena committed no conduct amounting to criminal negligence,” attorneys Jeffrey Krasnoff, Kyndra Miller and Tony Serra said in a joint statement Monday. “He should not be made a scapegoat.”
Almena has come under harsh public criticism in the days and weeks following the deadly Dec. 2 fire in the warehouse at 1315 31st Ave., where he rented out spaces to artists and allowed parties to be held there even though the building was not permitted for residential or entertainment purposes.
Since the Ghost Ship fire, city officials have learned that the warehouse had been converted into living space and a performance venue. The interior was crowded with pianos and other musical instruments, statues, ornate lamps and furniture. The performance space on the second floor was accessible only by a narrow wooden staircase.
By the time the people attending the electronic music concert there on the night of Dec. 2 were made aware of the fire, it was too late for them to escape.
Additionally, records released since the fire show Oakland’s planning and building department received several complaints about trash piling up in the vacant lot next door and on the sidewalk. Last month, an inspector went to the Ghost Ship to investigate reports of an illegal interior building structure but was unable to gain access.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
Almena has, for the most part, avoided interviews following the fire, although he told the “Today” show on Dec. 6 that he was “incredibly sorry” about what happened.
Almena refused to answer many of the direct questions asked by the show’s two hosts, and said in so many words that he didn’t believe the facility was a danger.
Almena’s attorneys said in a statement Monday that law enforcement in Alameda County, including the District Attorney’s Office, have a conflict of interest in the investigation.
“Undoubtedly, there will be a civil case by decedents’ representatives who will sue for millions upon millions of dollars,” the statement reads. “The Alameda [County] Sheriff’s Office, Fire Department, Building Code Inspectors, and Child Protective Services could be potential defendants in such a civil suit. All of them have repeatedly visited the premises without doing anything. The local Fire Department has even had a musical event there themselves!”
A spokesperson for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Bay City News Service contributed to this report.