OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - The man at the center of the Ghost Ship fire criminal case is defending himself from behind bars once again in a rambling 21-page letter sent to KTVU's 2 Investigates unit.
Derick Almena’s attorneys publicized the letter on behalf of their client Monday. It outlines what Almena calls “significant events” surrounding the Ghost Ship warehouse fire on December 2, 2016 in which 36 people lost their lives. Almena’s narrative is full of accusations against the building landlords, the media, Oakland city officials, and rebuttals to the witnesses who testified against him at his preliminary hearing.
Almena and co-defendant Max Harris are both charged with 36 counts of manslaughter for the deaths at the warehouse more than a year ago.
"I am being charged with building a death trap -- even though all of my significant changes saved lives," Almena wrote.
In the letter -- which vacillates between various legal arguments and a tangent-laden rant – Almena once again lays the blame for the condition of the building at the feet of the owner, Chor Ng, and her children who managed the property Kai and Eva.
He also accused Mayor Libby Schaaf’s office of hiring “a publicist at a rate of $90,000 to create a political and social media smokescreen” in order to cover up the alleged failures of multiple city departments, including the Oakland Fire Department. 2 Investigates reached out to Schaaf’s office Monday and was told the mayor had not received the letter, referring the accusations to the city attorney.
Many of Almena’s written accusations repeat the same claims he first made during 2 Investigates’ exclusive jailhouse interview last year. But among the scattered new details that emerged in the letter, Almena says that he suffers from a personality disorder called ‘schizotypal,’ that is marked by disturbing thoughts, paranoia, anxiety, and what he called “over-protective tendencies, as a father and over those close to me.”
Throughout the letter, Almena emphasized the impact that the tragedy and its fallout has had on his family. He laments that although they received financial help from the Red Cross immediately after the fire, his family was denied assistance from GoFundMe and YouCare fundraising campaigns.
“Through our lawyers Tony Serra and Jeff Krasnoff, we informed the GoFundMe – and YouCare – that thousands of dollars were donated by friends, family, and strangers thinking it would get directly to our family. They made excuses and led us to believe that they had set aside funds for the children, but that never happened.”
Almena said that he blames the mayor and the media claiming both jumped to conclusions to serve political or financial gain.
"The families and friends of the victims have been led down a path of misinformation, taking them further from justice and peace," Almena said in his final statement.
Read the full letter here