The Ghost Ship was a warehouse in Oakland, California, where an artist collective resided. During a party, a fire started and 36 people died. many people who lived in the Ghost Ship did so in violation of zoning laws.
The case became a spotlight for a city’s failure to enforce building codes in a place with a high cost of living that lead so many people to live in an old warehouse. A fire station was less than 200 yards away from the building.
Two people were charged with 36 counts each of involuntary manslaughter in the case. The first is Derick Almena, described as the master tenants and leaseholder. The second is Max Harris, who is described as Almena’s property manager.
The case ended for an acquittal for Harris. The jury was hung on the decision for Almena. This means there is no verdict for him. The jurors told the judge that ten of them favored conviction, but two were opposed.
The trial involved three months of testimony. During deliberations, the judge removed three jurors without stating a reason.
The Case Almost Resolved Before Trial
The case was set to be resolved with a plea bargain resolution at one point. Both defendants were to plead no contest to involuntary manslaughter. Harris would have served six years in prison while Almena would have served nine years in prison. The deal was rejected by the judge when family members complained the sentenced was too lenient. Now, Harris will serve no prison time because of the acquittal.
Lawyers for the defense blamed the fire on the landlord, as well as city officials who had inspected the property and never condemned the building. No cause of the fire was ever determined. Many believed the cause to be an electrical malfunction.
Almena took the stand to testify, telling the jury, “I’m just so sad.”
What Happens Next
A hearing next month is set for next month to see the next steps. Families of victims are pursuing the owner of the building, Chor Nar Siu Ng, in civil court.
Sam Bernstein is a Criminal Attorney in Washtenaw County.
ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.
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