Criminal Charges Filed Against Landlord, Tenant of Ghost Ship Warehouse

The Alameda County District Attorney filed criminal charges Monday against Derick Ion Almena, the landlord of the Oakland warehouse space known as the Ghost Ship, and Max Cardin Harris, a tenant who lived there.

Both men were charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter; Almena was arrested in Lake County, and Harris was arrested in Los Angeles.

According to the complaint filed by the district attorney, Almena and Harris created unsafe conditions at the warehouse space when they altered the interior of the building without proper permits, a violation of Oakland building and fire codes. The document says the two men then proceeded to allow large crowds to commune for concerts and events and at one point let up to 25 people live in the warehouse space. The complaint states that these actions were “reckless, creating a high risk of death.”

The documents also allege it was Harris who rented the warehouse space for an electronic music event the night of the fire. Records state Harris prepared the warehouse for the event and, in doing so, blocked off one of two stairwells on the second floor. This “reduced the upstairs guests to a single point of escape,” according to records released by the county.

The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit met with Harris in the weeks after the deadly fire. He said he was one of the last to leave the building alive that night in early December. Harris said he made jewelry in his live-work space at the warehouse and helped Almena collect rent.

Harris also sat down with NBC News the day after the fire.

“The ceiling was on fire, and it was like a sheet of fire rolling toward the door,” he told reporter Miguel Almaguer. Harris described himself as a “senior member” of the warehouse space who acted as an event coordinator.

Harris told NBC News that the building’s owner, Chor Ng, knew people lived at the warehouse.

“The owner of the space from what I know leased out the space as a place where we would host events and do dance classes and workshops and concerts and music,” he said.

But so far, only Harris and Almena are facing criminal charges.

The two men are also facing civil lawsuits; families of the victims are suing Harris and Almena, along with Ng, PG&E and others associated with the warehouse space.

In March, Almena’s wife, Micah Allison, reached out to the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit via Facebook and text message to talk about the struggle her family, including her three children, faced after the fire.

She asked for a loan for the family’s housing crisis and said she’d been looking for work.

The couple also sat down with NBC Bay Area in the days after the fire.

“We’re sorry to the friends and families who lost loved ones,” Almena told reporter Jodi Hernandez. “There’s nothing more important than the lives lost there.”

Almena was convicted in January on a misdemeanor for receiving stolen property. Police reports also show he had an arrest in 2015 for an altercation over rent at the Ghost Ship.

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