Video Shows Officer at Oakland ‘Ghost Ship' Warehouse Rave Months Before Deadly Fire

A body camera video shows a police officer ordering the shutdown of a suspected illegal rave at an Oakland, California, warehouse nearly two years before a fire killed 36 partygoers in the ramshackle building.

The video was obtained by the Bay Area News Group, which reported Thursday that there is no record of the officer following through on warnings that he would report the event to the city, although he did write a police report.

The video shows the officer banging on the door at 1:30 a.m. on March 1, 2015, and then telling a promoter there were noise complaints and reports that people were paying $25 to get in and drugs were being sold.

The deadly fire erupted on Dec. 2, 2016, during a dance party at the warehouse, an arts collective known as the "Ghost Ship" where some people were illegally living.

Since then, it has come to light that city and state officials fielded years of complaints about dangerous conditions, drugs, neglected children, trash, thefts and squabbles at the warehouse.

The March 2015 video is one of nine body camera recordings that the Bay Area News Group has been seeking from Oakland police.

In the video, the officer stood in the doorway talking to the party promoter, who refused him entry. Eventually people began leaving.

"If I come back, I'm gonna give you a fine. It's gonna be a very, very expensive fine," the officer said. "I'm still gonna make sure that the city knows about this place, and I'm gonna talk to the owner of this place as well. We'll figure out what you guys are doing."

In February, now-retired Assistant Chief David Downing ordered officers to report unlicensed cabarets and unpermitted special events to the department's Special Event Unit and to their supervisors, and to report "obvious hazardous conditions" for "referral to the appropriate city or county agency."

The Oakland Police Department released the following statement Thursday in response to the newspaper report:

"An article published in the East Bay Times (EBT) today, September 14, 2017 at 6:00 a.m., inaccurately reported that the Oakland Police Department and the City Administration said “that they could not find a record of (Officer) Chavez sending a report to City Hall.” In fact, spokespersons for OPD and the City Administration informed the EBT that they were researching whether any documentation existed regarding follow-up to the officer’s visit to the warehouse. Due to the one-hour deadline provided by EBT, the City was unable to provide that information and advised reporters that they were still in the process of completing the research.

"The following is a factual summary of the incident that occurred on March 1, 2015. On that day, at approximately 1:37 a.m., an Oakland police officer was flagged down in the 3000 block of International Boulevard on a report of an illegal rave involving alcohol sales, illegal drug use, loud music, and a cover charge at the door. The officer documented in his detailed report that he saw a large number of vehicles in the immediate area and several people loitering at the front door of 1305 31st Avenue.

"The officer made contact with the event organizer and determined that the event was unpermitted. He advised him of the violation of the City’s cabaret ordinance (OMC 05.12.020). The officer delivered a verbal warning and documented the violations in his police report. He waited for participants to vacate the building and ensured that the event was shut down.

"The officer was in compliance and followed proper report-writing and referral protocol. He completed and filed a detailed police report (See attached RD# 15-011215) documenting the incident, consistent with the video captured by his body worn camera (PDRD). The report was entered into the OPD’s records database and routed to the Vice Unit. The report was then forwarded to OPD’s Alcohol Beverage Action Team (ABAT), where it remains pending in the system. At the time, reports noting a potentially (or alleged) unlicensed cabaret were viewed as low-priority infractions. Since the Ghost Ship tragedy, those policies have changed."

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