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Judge Rejects Ghost Ship Fire Plea Deal

An Alameda County Superior Court Judge rejected the plea deals for two men facing multiple counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with a fire that killed 36 people at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland in December 2016. The district attorney's office has since indicated that plea deals will no longer be considered for the two men.

On December 2, 2016, a fire broke out at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland; a building advertised on Craislist as a "hybrid museum, sunken pirate ship, shingled funhouse, and guerilla gallery." According to the subsequent investigation, as many as 25 people lived at the illegally converted warehouse that was filled with flammable art and furniture and where the few fire exits in existence were blocked. 

The night of the fire, the upstairs area of the warehouse was rented to a promoter who hosted an electric dance music concert. A fire broke out during the concert, trapping most of the attendees inside. All 36 victims, ages 17 to 61, died from smoke inhalation. The building's power went off shortly after the fire started, and concert-goers had to climb down a narrow wodden staircase described by some as a "gang plank." A second stairwell that could have served as an exit was blocked off. Derick Almena, one of the two men charged, allegedly ordered the illegal construction of the "gang plank" staircase. 

Previously, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley and lawyers for Almena and Max Harris had negotiated a plea deal that included a nine-year prison sentence for Almena and a six-year prison sentence for Harris in exchange for both men pleading no contest to all charges. Almena was the property manager who oversaw Ghost Ship, and Harris was hired by Almena to collect rent, book concerts, and plan events at the venue. 

Following a two-day hearing after presentation of the plea deals, Judge James Cramer rejected both after hearing the emotional response from the victims' families. Many felt that the negotiated deals were a "sweetheard deal" and a "slap on the wrist." In his consideration, Cramer reviewed hundreds of pages of documents pertaining to this case, including a letter written by Almena likening himself as a victim. Cramer felt Almena had not shown enough remorse. While Cramer found no issue with Harris' deal, the pleas were considered a package deal. 

Since Judge Cramer's rejection, O'Malley has written a letter to the Judge indicating that the DA will no longer negotiate a plea deal with either man. According to O'Malley, the testimony of the grieving families changed her position. O'Malley has since requested a trial date for both men to face charges. 

 

 

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