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

Ghost Ship master tenant delays entering plea

Ghost Ship warehouse master tenant Derick Almena and creative director Max Harris briefly appeared in court Friday in connection with the fire that killed 36 people at the Oakland warehouse district last December but postponed entering pleas for three weeks.

Almena, 47, and Harris, 27, are each charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for their roles in the deadly blaze at a crowded dance party at the warehouse at 1309 31st Ave. in Oakland’s Fruitvale district on Dec. 2 and could face 39 years in state prison if they’re convicted.

They are scheduled to return to Alameda County Superior Court on July 7 to possibly enter pleas and have their attorneys argue a motion to reduce their bails, which are $1.08 million each.

District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said last week that she filed charges against Almena and Harris because their actions were “reckless” and created a high risk of death for the people who attended the dance party, for which Almena and Harris had failed to get permits from the city of Oakland.

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.”

Defense attorneys for Almena and Harris said outside court today that they believe the two men are innocent and are being made scapegoats for the parties they believe are most responsible for the fire, which they said are warehouse owner Chor Ng, PG&E and the Oakland Fire Department.

Tony Serra, Almena’s lawyer, said that when the case goes to trial, “There will be a reversal of roles and we (the defense) will be prosecuting the real culprits, which are the building owner, PG&E and the Oakland Fire Department.”

Serra predicted, “There will be a very adversarial and hostile atmosphere in this case.”

Curtis Briggs, Harris’ lawyer, said he believes it was “immoral” for O’Malley to file charges against Harris and Almena instead of against Ng, who he said fled to China after the fire.

Briggs said, “This case is a war against have-nots that benefits against a landlord from another country who was running a slum building.”

Briggs said Harris “is grateful to be alive and is full of compassion” for the people who were killed.

Briggs said Harris “is inspired by the outgrowth of support he has received from the community of artists who agree that the charges are unjust and have his back.”

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