Lawyers for Oakland warehouse fire master tenant blame government for blaze

OAKLAND (BCN) -- Attorneys for master tenant Derick Ion Almena at the Ghost Ship warehouse in Oakland where 36 people died in a fire Dec. 2 issued a statement today saying he didn't engage in criminal misconduct and alleging that government agencies are responsible for the fire.

High profile attorney Tony Serra and colleagues Jeffrey Krasnoff and Kyndra Miller also alleged that the Alameda County District Attorney's Office, which is conducting a criminal investigation into the fire, has a conflict of interest.

The attorneys said they would be the courtroom attorneys for Almena, 46, if any charges are filed against him for the fire at the warehouse at 1315 31st Ave.

In their statement, the attorneys noted that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has completed its investigation into the blaze without determining its cause and said, "Our investigation shows that Derick Almena committed no conduct amounting to criminal negligence. He should not be made a scapegoat."

Serra and his colleagues said, "Alameda County's law enforcement and its District Attorney's Office have a conflict of interest in pursuing the investigation."

They explained, "Undoubtedly, there will be a civil case by decedents' representatives who will sue for millions upon millions of dollars. The Alameda sheriff's office, Fire Department, building code inspectors, and Child Protective Services could be potential defendants in such a civil suit. All of them have repeatedly visited the premises without doing anything."

The attorneys said, "Civil lawyers look for 'deep pocket' defendants in such a case. Here, the only 'deep pockets' are those of Alameda County and the property owners."

Serra, Krasnoff and Miller said, "It is our fear that improper charges could be brought against Derick and others by Alameda County in order to divert attention away from their own irresponsible agencies."

They said, "It is our intention, if the need arises, to defend vigorously by showing that the real culprits are the above agencies who didn't do their jobs."

Alameda County DA spokeswoman Teresa Drenick said she hasn't seen the attorneys' statement. She said her only comment is, "We are investigating thoroughly and professionally."

District Attorney Nancy O'Malley has declined to estimate how long her office's investigation might take.

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