Derik Ion Almena (Photo courtesy Lake County Sheriff's Office)

Ghost Ship master tenant arraigned on manslaughter charges

Ghost Ship warehouse master tenant Derick Almena was arraigned Thursday on 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the fire that killed 36 people in Oakland’s Fruitvale district last December.

Dressed in a red jail uniform, the bearded Almena, 47, didn’t say anything at his brief appearance at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in Oakland.

About a dozen family members of the fire victims attended the hearing but left by a side door and didn’t speak to reporters.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Thomas Nixon kept Almena’s bail at $1.08 million and ordered him to return to court June 15 to possibly enter a plea and to have a hearing on a defense motion to reduce his bail.

However, Jeffrey Krasnoff, one of three attorneys representing Almena, said he will ask to have the hearing to be postponed for a month so Almena can appear in court with co-defendant Max Harris, described by prosecutors as the warehouse’s creative director, who also faces 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter.

Harris was arrested in Los Angeles County on Monday but will be transferred to Santa Rita Jail in Dublin before the end of the day today, Alameda County sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said.

It’s expected that Harris will be arraigned on Friday, Kelly said.

District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said on Monday that after a six-month investigation she filed charges against Almena, who was arrested in Lake County on Monday, and Harris because their actions were “reckless” and created a high risk of death for the large group of people who attended a dance party on the second floor of the warehouse at 1315 31st Ave. on Dec. 2.

O’Malley said the two men “knowingly created a fire trap with inadequate means of escape, filled it with human beings, and are now facing the consequences of their deadly actions.”

Prosecutors said that because the building was largely consumed in the fire, the exact cause is classified as undetermined and probably will remain that way.

Krasnoff said outside of court Thursday that the filing of criminal charges against Almena and Harris is “a distraction” from holding government agencies responsible for failing to address housing inequality and fire safety, which he said are the real issues that caused the deadly blaze.

Klaznoff and fellow attorneys Tony Serra and Kyndra Miller will hold a news conference on Friday to discuss legal theories that they believe indicate that Almena is innocent.

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