It’s been a little more than a year since a catastrophic fire killed 36 partygoers at a ramshackle, furniture-filled two-story building in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland. Now, it appears that two tenants of the former art warehouse Ghost Ship will head to trial in just a few months.
Derick Almena, the master tenant on the warehouse’s lease, and Max Harris, the organizer of the event which drew dozens to the dangerous building on Dec. 2, 2016, pleaded not guilty in court Tuesday to 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter. They are the only people criminally charged in the deaths.
The East Bay Times reports that the trial will begin July 16.
Almena is being represented by attorney Tony Serra, whose high-profile client list has included Huey Newton, Shrimp Boy, and most recently, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, the man acquitted in the death of Kathryn Steinle.
“How can they say my client is negligent when they don’t even know how the fire started?” Serra said in court in December, referencing the fact that a 50-page report released by Oakland’s Fire Department failed to identify a cause. “The city sitting on its hands was far more culpable than my client.”
Harris’s attorney Curtis Briggs will be using a similar argument, blaming the city of Oakland for not shutting the operation down, despite being aware that the conditions were dangerous.
While the criminal case proceeds, a number of lawsuits from the victims’ families have apparently been filed against the city of Oakland, building owner Chor Ng, Almena, his wife Micah Allison, and DJ Golden Donna, who was playing the event.