Defense: Oakland Fire, PG&E, City to blame for Ghost Ship Fire

The defense team for Ghost Ship Warehouse "master tenant" Derick Almena said their client is not criminally responsible for the deadly Ghost Ship Warehouse fire and listed a litany of agencies who they say are to blame. 

Lawyer Tony Serra argued that the City of Oakland, the Oakland Fire department and PG&E are responsible for the fire that killed 36 people on December 2, 2016. 

Derick Almena, the "master tenant" of the Ghost Ship Collective, was charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter earlier this week along with his associate Max Harris. 

In a press conference Friday, Serra argued that Almena had been "demonized." "We believe that he is being made a scapegoat for persons and entities culpable for this great tragedy," Serra said.

Addressing the media in front of a photo of Almena with his wife and children, Serra described Almena as a family man and respected artist. He said Almena would never have lived in the Ghost Ship warehouse if he believed it to be unsafe. 

Attorneys said the landlord of the building was warned on several occasions about possible electrical issues in the building. They also claimed that several police officers and fire officials had been in the building in the months leading up to the fire, but had never reported any issues to the building safety department.

"Rather than go after the true wrongdoers in the case the district attorney has chosen to focus on the weakest and most vulnerable members in this situation,"  said defense attorney Kyndra Miller. 

Attorney Jeffrey Krasnoff said PG&E used insufficient hardware in the wiring of the building. "The feeder line from the tower to the building was of an insufficent size to handle the voltage for the meter that was installed in that building."

In a statement, PG&E said, "We've seen no evidence to date that would lead us to believe that our facilities were the cause of the fire."

Krasnoff said on the night of the fire, Oakland firefighters failed to put a ladder to the second story windows to rescue people trapped inside. Instead, he said that the fire department cut a hole in the roof of the building, allowing the smoke and flames to surge upwards into the second floor where many of the victims died.

Krasnoff added that firefighters from nearby Fire Station 13 had held a party at the Ghost Ship venue, and never reported any issues. 

A high-level source with the Oakland Fire Department called Krasnoff's allegations "preposterous," saying the lawyer was "grasping at straws." The source said firefighters routinely ventilate from the top to rescue and put out fires.

Serra also accused Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley, who filed the criminal charges, of doing so because she is "politically ambitious."

"She wants to portray herself, through high media events like this litigation, as the 'avenging angel.' "

The DA's office said the charges were filed based only the evidence. "Our ethical duty as prosecutors is to analyze the facts and apply the law to those facts, filing criminal charges only when there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime," the office said in a statement.

Micah Allison, Derrick Almena's wife, appeared visibly shaken at the news conference as she spoke about her family. "We are all grieving. My husband is a good man. Max Harris is a good man. They are not greedy or selfish or reckless. I just hope that everyone can start to have a little compassion for everyone involved that night."

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