Ex-Tenants Describe Power Outages, Dangerous Conditions at Ghost Ship Warehouse

A former tenant of an Oakland warehouse says police were called to the unlicensed residence several times to help with evictions before a fire last year that killed three dozen people.

Woodworker Jose Avalos moved into the warehouse dubbed the Ghost Ship two years before the Dec. 2, 2016, fire. He testified Thursday on the second day of a preliminary hearing for two men charged with involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of 36 people.

Prosecutors say Derick Almena and Max Harris were primarily responsible for the building.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Avalos testified one officer often stopped by the warehouse, asking, "Is my best friend Derick here?"

Avalos testified there were frequent power outages and residents would go to the auto body shop next door to reset the breaker.

Another witness, Nicholas Bouchard, testified his name was among those on the lease for the warehouse in 2013, but he wanted out after a meeting about bringing it up to code, where he says Almena didn’t listen.

"He’s claiming he tried to get out of that lease because he thought what was happening there was dangerous; there were various codes that were not being complied with, and that’s simply not true," said Curtis Briggs, defense attorney for Harris.

A former casual tenant cried during her testimony, as she recalled a man who did not survive. She described the warehouse as not intended for humans, ongoing electrical problems. But she also saw it as place for community and expression, with no one person in charge.

"She says no one is in control, it’s a group, it’s a collective," said Tony Serra, attorney for Almena. "She indicated that’s how decisions are made, so I was delighted in that answer. The saddest thing was to see her break up and start to cry."

NBC Bay Area's Christie Smith contributed to this report.

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