Ghost Ship employees arrested on 36 counts of alleged manslaughter

Audrey McNamara/File

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This story has been updated to reflect additional information from the district attorney’s press conference.

Ghost Ship warehouse master tenant Derick Almena and creative director Max Harris were arrested Monday morning on 36 counts of alleged manslaughter in relation to the deadly Dec. 2, 2016, Ghost Ship warehouse fire, as first reported by the Mercury News.

Both men were arrested outside of Alameda County — Almena was arrested in Lake County, and Harris was arrested in Los Angeles, according to the Mercury News.

Of the 36 victims who died, two were UC Berkeley students, Jenny Morris and Vanessa Plotkin; two were campus alumni, Griffin Madden and David Cline; and one was a KALX volunteer, Chelsea Dolan.

In late December, family members of two victims, including Madden, filed civil lawsuits in Alameda County Superior Court against several people associated with the warehouse, including Almena.

The suit, filed by Madden’s parents Michael and Catherine Madden, alleges that the defendants were negligent to the warehouse’s safety conditions and are liable for the deaths. The suit also alleges that the defendants did not obtain permits to convert the warehouse into a residential or public event space.

The next month, Almena’s defense team released a report alleging that the deadly fire began because of inadequate utility wiring in an adjacent building.

Felony criminal charges — 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter — for the two men were announced by Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley at a Monday afternoon press conference.

“Defendants Almena and Harris knowingly created a firetrap with inadequate means of escape, filled it with human beings and are now facing the consequences of their deadly actions,” O’Malley alleged at the press conference.

In order to prosecute an involuntary manslaughter case, the district attorney must be convinced that the defendants acted with criminal negligence, with a disregard for human life “and that the deadly consequences of those actions were reasonably foreseeable.”

According to O’Malley’s statement, Almena and Harris’ actions on and leading up to the night of Dec. 2 qualify for this disregard.

Almena and Harris allegedly deceived law enforcement, the fire department and the building’s owners when they allowed people to live in the warehouse — they allegedly conducted unauthorized construction and electrical work, stored highly flammable materials and blocked one of two exits on the night of the fire.

The investigation began only hours after the fire, according to O’Malley. The monthslong investigation consisted of more than 75 witness interviews, more than 12 search warrants and the examination of more than 300 pieces of evidence.

“(Almena and Harris) created a nearly impossible labyrinth of their making,” O’Malley said.

Because of the “all-consuming” nature of the fire, the exact cause of the flames will remain undetermined. The investigation has officially concluded, according to O’Malley.

Almena and Harris will be arraigned upon their arrival in Alameda County.

Audrey McNamara is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @McNamaraAud.