As many as 25 people lived in the Ghost Ship at any one time, often in spaces that doubled as art studios, and practiced a twist on Satya Yuga, an ethos that is part Eastern religion and part artistic celebration. Oakland’s cityscape has been remade in recent decades by Silicon Valley-driven housing demand and investment, and is part of the most expensive urban area to live in the nation.
Testimony over months was alternately technical, delving into fire codes and safety requirements, to achingly emotional as parents recalled from the stand final text messages from children unable to escape the Dec. 2, 2016, fire.
Prosecutors argued that the two men were responsible for the deaths by failing to keep the warehouse up to fire code, endangering all of those who attended the concert. Defense attorneys suggested the fire was started intentionally — its official cause has never been determined — and that city officials knew about the dangerous conditions but failed to act.
“I’m totally not satisfied,” said Alberto Vega, the brother of one of the victims, Alex Vega, according to the East Bay Times. Vega died of smoke inhalation, as did the other victims.
He was not on site when the fire broke out, having been warned that the warehouse was not a suitable place to raise his young children.
Of the dozen jurors, 10 believed Almena should be convicted with the other two dissenting. The split prompted Alameda County Superior Court Judge Trina Thompson to declare the jury “hopelessly deadlocked.”
The process to begin Almena’s retrial is scheduled to start early next month.
Harris, 29, held the title of creative director at the building. He was present during the fire, managing to escape without injury.
But people who lived there testified during the trial that he had little authority over building rules and safety measures, casting Harris as the mercurial Almena’s on-site assistant.
Harris and his lawyers, Tyler Smith and Curtis Briggs, embraced on hearing the jury’s first “not guilty” verdict on the involuntary manslaughter counts. He and Almena both faced 39 years in prison if convicted.
After the verdicts, Briggs suggested Oakland city officials should be held accountable for the Ghost Ship tragedy, failing to adequately manage housing demand and enforce fire codes.
“Not one city official had the courage to get on the stand and tell the truth,” Briggs said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.