The families of the victims of the deadly Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland are upset and despondent after learning of a proposed plea deal with the warehouse’s master tenant for his alleged role in the blaze, an attorney for many of the families said.
Master tenant Derick Almena is expected to be in court Jan. 22 when a judge will hear Almena’s plea, said attorney Mary Alexander, who represents 13 families of the victims. Four to six weeks later, Almena is expected to be sentenced to nine years in jail. No date has been set for the sentencing.
Thirty-six people died in the fire in the 1300 block of 31st Avenue on Dec. 2, 2016, as people were enjoying a music party on the second floor of the building.
“The clients are very upset,” Alexander said.
Almena is getting so little time and he gets to spend time with his family while they have lost members of theirs, she said.
He’s taking responsibility by pleading guilty, but he’s not being held accountable, Alexander said.
“The families want more time,” she said.
Almena is living in Lake County with his family after being released from Santa Rita Jail because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He wears an ankle bracelet that monitors his whereabouts.
He was scheduled to be retried Feb. 4 but that likely won’t happen now because of the proposed plea deal.
Families were told in a Zoom call last week of the deal by Alameda County prosecutors, Alexander said. A gag order put in place by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Trina Thompson prevents prosecutors from speaking publicly about the case.
At the sentencing, victims will be able to give statements to the court. Alexander was not sure how the sentencing will be conducted because of the pandemic.
She said the families are going to want to express their feelings to the court.
In 2018, families expressed their outrage over a previous plea deal that called for Almena to serve nine years behind bars and warehouse creative director Max Harris to serve six years.
Subsequently, a trial was held, and the jury could not decide whether Almena was guilty, but they set Harris free.
Families again could express their outrage, which may sway the court, but Alexander doesn’t think that will be effective again.
Two of Alexander’s clients have spoken publicly about their loss, but they are not willing to talk now, she said.
“I think they are really despondent,” she said.
The blaze was the deadliest structure fire in California since the fire following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.