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Manslaughter Charges Filed in 'Ghost Ship' Artist Collective Fire

By George Khoury, Esq. on June 06, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The fire at the Ghost Ship artist collective in Oakland, California during a dance party last December killed 36 individuals. While the families of victims have filed a civil lawsuit for wrongful death against the building owner, the collective's management, party promoter, and even the city, until this week no criminal charges had been filed.

That changed yesterday when the manager of the collective, Derick Alamena, along with his assistant, Max Harris, were arrested. Both will be charged on 36 counts each of involuntary manslaughter as a result of the fire last year. Although authorities did not indicate whether the owner of the warehouse would also be facing criminal charges, the investigation has concluded.

More Details on the Tragedy

The Ghost Ship fire was the deadliest fire the country had seen in over 12 years. Tragically, after the fire began, all attendees of the party became trapped on the second floor. The only other means of escape from the second floor had been blocked prior to the dance party. There were no fire extinguishers, nor did the indoor fire sprinkler system function. Due to the extent of the fire damage, investigators have stated that cause of the fire may never be discovered.

The building itself was not permitted for any of the uses that Alamena and Harris allowed. Primarily, the building was rented to artists as both living and working space. Also, the space was rented for performances, parties, and other creative endeavors. Individuals lived in makeshift living spaces, and RVs that were inside the building. There was one shared bathroom for all the occupants. Electricity, borrowed from a neighboring building, came from extensions cords that ran through a literal hole in the wall.

Can Landlords Be Held Criminally Liable?

Ordinarily landlords will not be held criminally liable when a person is injured or dies due to negligence such as an unsafe condition on their property. However, depending on the facts of the case, a landlord can be held criminally liable if their actions or failures to act were so egregious as to create criminal liability.

When someone dies as a result of the grossly negligent conduct of a landlord, involuntary manslaughter or other criminal negligence type charges may be appropriate.

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