Leaked body camera videos show officers knew of Ghost Ship Fire hazards long before tragedy

- Newly released body camera video shows police officers knew of dangers inside the Oakland Ghost Ship warehouse more than a year before a fire broke out and killed 36 people.

The East Bay Times obtained more than a dozen videos from a source within the city that prove on seven occasions officers were inside responding to calls of fights, illegal parties or arguments among tenants. The key video clips were shared with 2 Investigates Monday.

“It’s like a huge fireplace in there,” one officer was heard saying on body camera video. “I would be so worried about all the electrical wires.”

More than a year before the warehouse fire in December 2016, officers commented on the clutter and safety concerns following a 911 call.

“I don’t feel comfortable climbing up there. Let’s just make it quick. Is this even stable?” an officer is heard on body camera video talking about the rickety stairs.

Attorneys representing the two men charged in the Ghost Ship tragedy said this bolsters their cases. Additionally, public records appear to show that there were no reports, no inspections and no violations issued after any police visits.

“None of that occurred and that gave the green light to my client,” attorney Tony Serra representing tenant Derick Almena said. “We gain the advantage of more evidence to show my client was given the green light and therefore he believed everything he was doing was okay.”

Almena and Max Harris were both charged with 36 counts of manslaughter for the deaths of three dozen people, however, no city officials, employees, building owners or anyone else has been charged in connection with the case. The videos appear to show the failure of city employees to take action long before the tragedy.

“They don’t have any choice,” attorney Bobby Thompson who’s suing the city on behalf of the victims said. “The law requires them to do something and they didn’t and as a result this tragic event happened.”

In a previous report, 2 Investigates found firefighters were aware of issues and at least one attended a party at the Ghost Ship. Since they do not wear body camera, it’s unclear how many times firefighters may have been inside, however, public records show no inspections were done. 

The warehouse is owned by Chor Ng and was leased by her two children. None of the Ngs have been charged and the family has been elusive since the fire. Chor refused to answer questions by 2 Investigates late last year. 

Attorney Mary Alexander representing the victims in a civil case said in addition to the city and PG&E, the Ngs should be held accountable. The videos she said help their case by showing the number of people who knew or should have known.

“We are going to be able to hold the Ngs responsible,” Alexander said. “They contributed to this tragic event.”

Defense and civil attorneys argue the warehouse deaths were years in the making because of negligence and ignoring hazards. Even police mentioned in body camera video that there were repetitive issues.

“We’re going to shut it down because we’re just coming here too many times,” an officer said to Almena months before the fire. “It’s just causing us too many problems. Are you guys even legally supposed to stay here?”

Request for comment from the city, the district attorney and the police department regarding the videos went unanswered on Monday. Oakland police defended its officers to the East Bay Times and said they aren’t trained to identify fire hazards.

 

VIDEOS Courtesy East Bay Times: 

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