By Hayden Wright
In December, 36 people died in the fire that broke out in Oakland’s Ghost Ship warehouse—which served as home and studio to local artists. Leaseholder Derick Almena and tenant Max Harris have both been charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the fire, which broke out during an electronic dance party.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said Almena and Harris “knowingly created a fire trap with inadequate means of escape. They then filled that area with human beings and are now facing the consequences of their action.” Both face up to 39 years in prison if convicted on all charges, reports CNN.
The warehouse—which county officials say had not been inspected in 30 years—has been described as a dilapidated structure filled with tapestries, furniture and flammable artworks. According to court documents, Harris lived in the warehouse and served as “creative director,” collecting rent from tenants and liaising with Almena.
Charges of negligence in the case include overcrowding the space with 25 tenants, allowing floor-to-ceiling storage of flammable materials and deceiving officials and building owners about the occupancy.
“We intend to vigorously defend him in the court of law,” said Almena’s attorneys. “We believe that these charges represent no less than a miscarriage of justice, and we are confident that this attempt to make a scapegoat out of our client will fail.”