Ghost Ship defendants accept plea deal and avoid trial

Two men charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter have officially accepted a package plea bargain and will avoid trial in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire case in Oakland.

Ghost Ship Master Tenant Derick Almena agreed to nine years in jail and creative director Max Harris agreed to six. Both will spend about half of their sentences in jail, earning credit for time served and good behavior. Almena is looking at spending a total of three and a half more years in jail and Harris another two.

Both men were arrested six months after the December 2016 fire killed three dozen people following a party at the artists’ collective.

Prosecutors told victims’ family members of the plea offer over the weekend, ahead of Tuesday’s hearing. Defense attorneys in the criminal case then had told KTVU that both sides still had to be approve the agreement. They were gagged until after Tuesday’s hearing.

Victims’ families attended the hearing on Tuesday and some were upset the case didn’t go to trial or claimed the criminal case lacked accountability. At this point, the owners of the Ghost Ship warehouse have never been charged.

A separate civil case is still working its way through the courts, which calls out the warehouse owner’s family, the Ngs, along with PG&E and the City of Oakland. Civil attorneys told KTVU the plea deal helps the civil case because both Almena and Harris can speak freely about the other defendants in the civil case. The Alameda County District Attorney could also provide evidence that would normally be sealed if the criminal case was ongoing. 

Fire investigators have not been able to determine a cause for the building fire, however, in court, a fire official suspected it may have been caused by electrical issues.