Families of Victims in 2016 Oakland ‘Ghost Ship’ Fire Outraged as Leaseholder Gets Home Confinement
“I am repulsed by this plea agreement. You do not take responsibility for your actions. I am angry with this court in that it is a legal system, not a justice system”
Back in December of 2016, a building in Oakland, California burned in a massive fire. The warehouse building had been taken over by a collective of artists and musicians, some of whom were living in the building illegally.
Now the main leaseholder, who has been held responsible for the blaze, has been sentenced to spend the remainder of his 12 year sentence in home confinement. Families of the victims are outraged.
The building has been described as a tinderbox just waiting to happen.
With 36 victims, the fire has the distinction of being the worst in Oakland’s history.
Back in 2016, my colleague Leslie Eastman described what happened:
Death Toll Climbs to 36 in Oakland’s “Ghost Ship” Fire
Investigators are working to determine the cause of a massive warehouse fire that claimed the lives of over 30 young adults who were attending a party. The facility housed a community of artisans in Oakland, California.
The warehouse where at least 36 people died in a massive fire Friday night has been deemed too unsafe and unstable for emergency workers, prompting fire officials to temporarily halt search efforts that have now stretched into a fourth day.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said a criminal investigation team is involved, which means the site of the warehouse fire is a potential crime scene.
Melinda Drayton, battalion chief for the Oakland Fire Department, said at a news conference Monday morning that crews stopped searching overnight after noticing that a wall at the back of the building was leaning at an alarming angle. The search was halted just after midnight, Drayton said, adding that once it resumes, “we absolutely believe that the number of fatalities will increase.”
Officials now believe that the deadly fire started at the back of the warehouse. But Drayton said Monday that significant investigative work is still ahead. “We are no closer to finding a cause,” she said.
The leaseholder made a deal with prosecutors. Family members were able to make statements at the sentencing hearing this week.
ABC 7 in California reports:
Emotional statements from Ghost Ship victims’ families as judge sentences warehouse founder Derick Almena
Ghost Ship master tenant Derick Almena was dropped off in front of an Oakland courthouse Monday to learn his fate for his role in the disastrous warehouse fire that killed 36 people.
Once inside, Almena faced dozens of family members, appearing by Zoom, delivering emotional impact statements to Alameda County Superior Court Judge Trina Thompson and to Almena himself.
Colleen Dolan, mother of Chelsea Dolan said to Almena:
“It would have taken so little for you to give up just a pinch of your hipster ego for the sake of others,” said Dolan. Your swaggering ego killed 36 people.”
Like most of the victims, Chelsea Dolan was trapped on the second floor of the warehouse, a cluttered and unlicensed venue for a music concert that ended in a deadly fire in December 2016.
“I curse you with the pain in your bones and your muscles that comes from clenching in fear as you face the fury of a firestorm coming to consume you,” Colleen Dolan told Almena. “I do not forgive you. I never will.”…
Almena accepted a deal in January, pleading guilty to 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter. He has been on house arrest since May, released due to the pandemic.
Several family members urged Judge Thompson to throw out the deal.
“I am repulsed by this plea agreement. You do not take responsibility for your actions. I am angry with this court in that it is a legal system, not a justice system,” said victim Donna Kellogg’s stepfather Keith Slocum.
“I miss him so much. I am not satisfied with this plea deal,” said Michelle Worthington, sister of victim Joey Matlock. “How is this justice?”
This tweet includes a photo of the inside of the building before the fire:
Ghost Ship lawsuits call the Oakland warehouse a "death trap," say numerous people should have known of dangers https://t.co/M2AwJQKJ1u pic.twitter.com/FjaR9SvyPo
— CNN (@CNN) December 26, 2016
This is what it looked like afterwards:
"Like a fireplace": New video shows "worried" cops a year before Ghost Ship fire in Oakland, California https://t.co/BJioPmQ8QT pic.twitter.com/ul0sq9jf3h
— CBS News (@CBSNews) April 30, 2018
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A bunch of dead hipster’s families are mad at the alive hipster who probably didn’t charge them much, if any, rent? These communes always fall into ruin for some reason like this because no one seems to give a crap about anything but their “art”.
This is a Bernie Sanders paradise.
All but one of the 36 dead were visitors who were attending a music concert being held, illegally, in the warehouse when the fire broke out. Only one was a “hipster” being charged rent.
Almena took in between $7,500 and $15,000/mo. in rent from his tenants. He used this rent to pay the building owner and pocketed the rest.
Almena had lied to Police Officers a number of times over the years that no one lived in the building. His latest lie to that effect was a few months before the deadly fire.
When building inspectors went to inspect the premises, no one would answer their knocks and they had to leave without performing any inspection.
Music concerts like the kind Almena held in the Ghost Ship on the night of the fire require a permit, but none was obtained. The permit would have undoubtedly been denied had it been applied for.
Almena was well aware of numerous electrical problems with the building. An unlicensed electrician performed some remediation for a few of the problems. This remediation promptly failed.
Almena created the main stairway to the second floor by stacking wooden pallets in such a way that the second floor could be accessed. These pallets caught fire almost as soon as the fire started, preventing many of the victims from escaping.
Almena allowed tenants used an enormous amount of wooden items to create individual living/work spaces. Despite the huge fuel load from these conditions, there were no fire alarms, fire sprinklers or even smoke detectors.
I question whether the permit would have been denied. In some municipalities, perhaps. But, “permit” too often means, “our cut off the top”. Like, “business licenses”.
I do not believe there is any question that the permit would have been denied.
The City had opened an investigation of the property approximately a month before the fire. City inspectors had attempted to visit the property to inspect it and could not gain entry.
The required permit is issued by the Police Department and requires a Certificate of Insurance, which Almena certainly could not have obtained. It also requires a building and fire services plan review and inspection for non-conforming buildings like the Ghost Ship warehouse. The warehouse would never have passed such a review.
CalFed — thanks for that review. A question — under what circumstances could the inspectors have asked the police to get them into the building? After all, an easy way to keep inspectors from doing their job is to keep the inspectors out of the warehouse. There has to be some recourse for that. I’m wondering why the inspectors didn’t escalate this — bureaucratic inertia or something else?
Ultimately the building inspectors would need a court order to enter the building without someone answering the door and allowing them entry. That is not common.
It should also be noted that Almena went to some length to hide the fact that people were residing inside the warehouse, to include instructing the tenants to tell people that it was a 24 hour art studio and not to disclose to anyone that they lived on the premises.
In the 18 years before the fire, the city of Oakland had received 10 complaints about the warehouse, but most of the complaints involved garbage and graffiti and various blight issues. More recently the issue of illegal interior construction had been raised and that was the crux of the building department’s attempts to complete an interior inspection.
FWIW, the City of Oakland settled civil complaints involving the Ghost Ship fire for $33 million. Pacific Gas and Electric, the utility company, also settled for an undisclosed sum.
Hey wait just a minute. The city has numerous building codes and fire safety regulations for all the buildings in the city, varying according to use.
This was a “residential” occupancy which we hear was illegal to start with. The city is supposed to enforce those laws! So where were the government workers…….who are paid to enforce those laws?
The city has numerous fire and life safety regulations, many of which were obviously NOT followed by the lease holder. So who is responsible for enforcing the fire and life safety codes?
Yes the lease holder has considerable responsibility for the unnecessary deaths. But the tax payers hire, and compensate very well, numerous government workers to oversee and enforce these rules! Why don’t those who lost loved ones go after the government workers who failed to do their jobs…..and thus bear a lot of responsibility for those deaths also!
How come those guys who didn’t do their jobs….get a free pass here?
Yes, countryboy, the city does have numerous building codes. The city is supposed to enforce those laws. However, Almena engaged in a conspiracy to violate those codes.
I would point out that there are laws against murder, robbery and burglary in the city of Oakland also. And Oakland is supposed to enforce those laws. Who do we blame when someone violates those laws? The violator or the City?
That being said, the fact that Oakland settled with the survivors and victims of the Ghost Ship fire for $33 million certainly indicates that the City accepted some fault for what happened.
No one would answer the door to building inspectors. How is this Almena’s fault? He didn’t live there. The people who did didn’t answer the door because they wanted to keep on living there even if the inspector disagreed. That’s on them.
Who hosted the fatal party? Almena, or one of his tenants? Why would anyone assume Almena should apply for a permit for a party that he had no involvement with? Why didn’t the tenant? Again, this is on the tenants.
The tenants wanted cheap digs more than code safety, and the landlord worked to that rule. Legally, that falls on both parties, but morally under plain contract law, this is on the tenants. They got exactly what they were willing to pay for.
Henry…every point that you attempt to make is categorically false.
Almena DID live in the warehouse. Your claim to the contrary is false.
ALMENA failed to answer the door and in fact instructed the tenants to lie, if asked, about whether anyone actually resided in the warehouse.
ALMENA hosted the concert on the night of the fatal fire and pocketed the money that was collected. In fact, he hosted concerts, dance parties, and raves as a regular business activity at the warehouse and pocketed the money that was collected.
Your conclusion that Almena had no involvement with the fatal concert (and all the other entertainment activities that he hosted at the warehouse) appears to be based on ignorance.
The tenants did want cheap digs and, of course, Almena wanted the rent monies and did not want to bother with any of the residential safety requirements. I can’t imagine how anybody can claim Almena occupied the moral high ground in this situation.
This is the Oakland Oblast of the Peoples’ Democrat Republic of Alta California. The only question is which judges, prosecutors, and/or politicians were paid off and with what. Expecting law or justice to prevail there is pointless.
What was the sentencing recommendation from the prosecution? House confinement? For 12 [CoC] years? Or was that the judge’s call?
The sentence was part of a plea deal with the Alameda County District Attorney. The terms of the agreement call for Almena to spend 18 months under house arrest followed by three years of supervised release in return for pleading guilty to 36 counts of manslaughter.
I will point out that this is the same District Attorney who dismissed all felony charges against Eric Clanton, the notorious “Professor Bike Lock”, who used to frequent conservative rallies in the San Francisco area, bashing participants over the head with a massive “U lock” style bike lock. He was allowed to plead guilty to a single misdemeanor count of assault and was then sentenced to three years of informal probation.