Following Monday's bombshell news that Ghost Ship warehouse proprietor and master tenant Derick Almena, as well as another tenant, Max Harris, were being charged with manslaughter in the deaths of 36 people in a fire last December, it was unclear how soon the two suspects would be arraigned in Alameda County. Today, Almena made his first appearance in an Oakland court, as the Examiner reports, wearing a red jail jumpsuit, and not saying a word during the aborted arraignment.
Harris, who was arrested Monday in Los Angeles, was expected to be arraigned tomorrow in Oakland, but Judge Thomas Nixon decided to delay both Almena's arraignment and Harris's so that both men could appear in court together and so their attorneys could coordinate. That will happen a week from today, at 9 a.m. on June 15.
Both are expected to be arraigned on 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter, and Almena's defense team has already signaled that they will delay his entering a plea, and they are seeking a reduction in his $1.08 million bail amount.
Per the East Bay Times, about a dozen family members of the fire victims filled the courtroom alongside a throng of reporters, and they spoke to David Gregory, the father of 20-year-old Michela Gregory who died in the blaze with her 22-year-old boyfriend Alex Vega, outside the courtroom. "I just wanted to see his face,” Gregory said to the paper. "I wanted to see if he had any remorse."
While the family members of the victims and many in the local community are satisfied to see Almena about to be prosecuted in this case, others continue to argue that Almena and Harris are scapegoats for a greedy, absentee landlord and a broken municipal system that has failed residents, especially artists, who can't afford market-rate housing.
60-year-old Ghost Ship resident Darold Leite appeared in court to support Almena on Thursday, and he tells the East Bay Times, "I believe the system is broken and the system is corrupt, and the people who should have been held responsible aren’t. Derick was doing something to the best of his ability." He further referred to landlord Chor Ng, who so far faces no charges, as a "slumlord."
One of Almena's defense attorneys, Jeffrey Krasnoff, spoke to the Examiner outside the courtroom today and announced that he and co-counsels Tony Serra and Kyndra Miller would be holding a press conference Friday to discuss the legal theories they believe will render Almena innocent. Krasnoff referred to the manslaughter charges as a "distraction" from the bigger issue of holding city agencies responsible for the blaze.
Below, some brief remarks Krasnoff made to reporters.