Defense attorneys: Derick Almena ‘being made a scapegoat’ for Ghost Ship fire

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Joshua Jordan/File

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In a Friday press conference, defense attorneys for Ghost Ship warehouse master tenant Derick Almena alleged their client was “being made a scapegoat” for the “true culprits” responsible for a fire that killed 36 people in December.

Almena and Ghost Ship warehouse creative director Max Harris were arrested last Monday on 36 counts of alleged manslaughter in connection with last December’s Ghost Ship warehouse fireThe 36 victims of the fire included two campus students, Jenny Morris and Vanessa Plotkin; two campus alumni, Griffin Madden and David Cline; and one KALX volunteer, Chelsea Dolan.

“We believe that this prosecution is being brought in bad faith (and) that indeed there are ulterior motives that lie behind the prosecution of our client,” alleged J. Tony Serra, one of Almena’s defense attorneys.

Serra further alleged that other parties and various public agencies, including PG&E and the Oakland Fire Department, were actually responsible for the fire.

“Rather than go after the true wrongdoers in this case, the district attorney has chosen to focus on the weakest and most vulnerable members in this situation, and that is my client,” alleged Kyndra Miller, a second attorney for Almena.

Miller alleged that the landlord was informed multiple times of problems with the warehouse’s electrical wiring. According to Miller, the police department had been in the building in the months leading up to the fire, yet allegedly had not reported any issues to either the fire or building safety department.

Jeffrey Krasnoff, a third attorney for Almena, alleged PG&E used “insufficient hardware” in the Ghost Ship warehouse in an effort to cut costs — for example, an undersized electrical feeder line leading to the warehouse could have caused overheating in one of the building’s meters.

Serra said he believes the case will be “difficult for prosecution to produce evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Criminal negligence is where a person understands the nature of the risk, understands the nature of peril and does not seek to address it or avoid it,” Serra said. “This is a state of mind that they have to prove beyond reasonable doubt. They will never prove it with respect to our client.”

Micah Allison, Almena’s wife, also spoke at the press conference. Allison said she lived on the second floor of the warehouse with her husband and two children. Allison added that she and her family were not present on the night of the fire “not because we were worried about the possibility of anything going wrong” but because of the loud event that was scheduled.

“We would never have lived in a place we thought was unsafe,” Allison said.

The office of Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley responded to the allegations made by Almena’s defense team and Allison in their press conference.

“The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office holds itself to the highest of professional standards when prosecuting criminal matters; we do not try our cases in the media,” said Alameda County assistant district attorney Teresa Drenick in an email.

Contact Valerie Hsieh at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @valhsieh.