Ghost Ship warehouse master tenant Derick Almena pleaded guilty Friday in Oakland to 36 counts against him that may result in a 12-year prison sentence.
The charges involved at least one count of manslaughter and multiple counts of involuntary manslaughter resulting from the deaths of 36 people on Dec. 2, 2016, in a blaze that broke out during a music party at the warehouse in the 1300 block of 31st Avenue in Oakland.
Almena remains on electronic monitoring, said Judge Trina Thompson, who presided at Friday’s hearing in Alameda County Superior Court.
Last week, the families of the victims were upset and despondent over the potential plea by Almena, said attorney Mary Alexander, who represents 13 victims’ families.
Almena was expected to plead guilty in exchange for a nine-year sentence, which families of the victims thought was too short.
“The clients are very upset,” Alexander said.
In addition to the potential short sentence, Almena was able to spend time with his family in Lake County while death prevents the victims’ families from spending time with their loved ones, Alexander said.
She added that Almena is taking responsibility for his actions by pleading guilty but he is not being held accountable.
Almena will not be retried now that he has pleaded guilty; a second trial had been scheduled for Feb. 4. The jury was unable to decide in the first trial whether Almena was guilty.
Warehouse creative director Max Harris was found not guilty in that trial.
Alameda County prosecutors are unable to comment on the outcome of Almena’s plea because Thompson has issued a gag order that prevents them from talking about the case.
In 2018, families of the victims expressed outrage over a plea deal with Almena that called for him to serve nine years behind bars.
That deal also called for Harris to serve time.
The families’ outrage prompted the deals to be scrapped and a trial ensued.
In the trial, prosecutors told jurors that Harris and Almena should be found guilty because they created a death trap at the warehouse with no fire sprinklers, smoke alarms, lighted exit signs or stairs that were in good condition.
Prosecutors also alleged that Almena violated the terms of the building’s lease by allowing up to 25 people to live there even though it was zoned for commercial rather than residential use.
But defense lawyers said firefighters, police officers and Child Protective Service officials who visited the warehouse on multiple occasions never told Almena and Harris that the building was unsafe.
Defense attorneys also said there was evidence that the fire was an act of arson that Almena and Harris could not have prevented.
Almena’s sentencing is scheduled for March 8. He was released from Santa Rita Jail in May of last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ghost Ship warehouse fire was the deadliest structure fire in California since the fire after the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco.