Six months after the ghastly fire at Oakland DIY venue/living space Ghost Ship, charges have been brought against those in charge of the building. As per a report in the New York Times, both the building’s “master tenant,” David Almena, and Max Harris, who “assisted [Almena] in a supervisory role in the building,” have been charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley held a news conference in the Bay Area yesterday, where she said that 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 actions.” Those consequences are the deaths of 36 people, many of whom were at the venue to see a performance by artists on the 100% Silk label. Two of the artists scheduled to perform — producers Cherushii and Nackt — were amongst those killed.
Almena, who lived at the venue, was staying in a hotel on the night of the fire, and made a widely criticized Facebook post not long afterward, complaining that “everything I worked so hard for is gone” but not mentioning any of the dead. He later posted, “My goal has been nothing less than to create an environment for art and creativity in our community… The prayers of my family and I go out to the families of the victims.” (His Facebook page has now been deleted.)
At her news conference yesterday, O’Malley condemned Almena’s role in allowing the space to be used for habitation and large gatherings of people: “The paying guests at the event were faced with a nearly impossible labyrinth of the defendants’ making. [The defendants] allowed individuals to live in the warehouse and deceived the police, the Fire Department and the owner of the building to that fact. They allowed large groups to assemble in the warehouse for unpermitted and unsafe musical events in that space.” Both Almena and Harris face up to 39 years in jail.
Curiously, however, no charges were brought against the building’s owner, one Chor Nar Siu Ng. The New York Times quotes Mike Madden, the father of fire victim Griffin Madden, as saying “Our hope is that [the prosectution’s] aggressive approach continues, including pursuing charges against [the owner.]” However, the district attorney’s office “[has] no plans to charge anyone else in the fire and described the investigation as ‘completed.'”