The legal team that will be representing Derick Ion Almena, the founder of Oakland's Ghost Ship collective and the man many say is responsible for the unsafe construction, wiring, and lack of proper egress at the illegal warehouse dwelling that led to the deaths of 36 people in a December 2 fire, issued a statement Monday asserting that Almena "committed no conduct amounting to criminal negligence." Almena is being represented by high-profile, flamboyant defense attorney Tony Serra, as we learned last week, and much as Serra did in his defense of convicted Chinatown mobster Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, he is already attempting to paint a portrait of government overreach and conflict of interest in any potential case against Almena even though no criminal charges against Almena have been filed.
The statement, issued to the media by Serra and colleagues Jeffrey Krasnoff and Kyndra Miller, insists that Almena "should not be made a scapegoat," noting that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has already concluded their investigation into the fire without determining its exact cause, and further laying out the reasons why the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office will have an inherent conflict of interest in pursuing any case against their client.
Alameda County’s law enforcement and its District Attorney’s Office have a conflict of interest in pursuing the investigation. 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...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. 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. 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's office spokesperson Teresa Drenick said simply in response, to the East Bay Times, that they are "in the midst of a thorough, professional and careful investigation," and they declined to comment further.
Though the criticisms and character critiques of Almena in the weeks since the fire have been many, Almena and his friends have defended him as having been just a DIY maverick who was providing inexpensive living and studio space to artists who couldn't otherwise afford to live in Oakland. But multiple friends and former residents of the collective said that Almena had been warned many times about safety problems he had created with the wiring and the slipshod wood construction of the warehouse's interior spaces, and that he had "laughed" these off.
So far, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley has not ruled out the possibility of criminal charges against Almena, including murder charges.