So far, Satya Yuga Collective founder Derrick Ion has not been charged with any crime in relation to the so-called “Oakland Ghost Ship Fire” which killed 36 people at the beginning of December. Nobody else has been charged either, and so far there is no evidence of arson. The various authorities have not yet concluded their investigation.
$200 million of civil suits have been filed against 9 people by families of the victims.
re-blogged from The Daily Californian:
The family members of two victims who perished in the Oakland warehouse fire Dec. 2, including UC Berkeley alumnus Griffin Madden, filed civil lawsuits in Alameda County Superior Court on Friday against several people associated with the “Ghost Ship” warehouse.
One lawsuit was filed on behalf of 23-year-old Madden, as first reported by KTVU, and another was filed on behalf of Michela Gregory, a 20-year-old San Francisco State University student who died clutching her boyfriend, Alex Vega. These are the first known suits filed in connection with the Oakland fire, according to the East Bay Times.
The suit filed by Madden’s parents, Michael and Catherine Madden, alleges that the defendants were negligent with regards to the safety conditions of the “Ghost Ship” warehouse and are liable for Madden’s death. It also alleges that the defendants did not obtain permits to convert the warehouse into a residential or public event space.
Nine defendants are listed in the suit, including Chor Nar Siu Ng, the owner of the warehouse; her daughter Eva Ng; warehouse managers Derick Ion Almena and Micah Allison; and warehouse lessors Daniel Lopez and Omar Vega. Joel Shanahan, the performer at the warehouse the night of the fire, known most commonly by the stage name Golden Donna; Jon Hrabko, who organized and promoted the event; and Los Angeles record label 100% Silk were also listed as defendants in the suit.
The Maddens are being represented by Mary Alexander & Associates, a San Francisco law firm. In their suit, the Maddens demanded a trial by jury…Ng has hired attorney Keith Bremer from the firm Bremer Whyte Brown & O’Meara to represent her, while Almena is being represented by attorney Tony Serra…
“Said defendants had mandatory and nondelegable duties to inspect and maintain said property in a safe and usable condition, and to repair any dangerous or unsafe conditions,” the lawsuit states. “Each of them, were somehow negligent or otherwise responsible for the injuries and death of Griffin Madden and the damages alleged herein.”
The suit calls the warehouse a “death trap,” alleging that it was poorly constructed and lacked a safe and accessible exit, as well as adequate fire-safety measures…
Attack Is The Best Form Of Defense
A 2015 booking photo of Derrick Ion Almena. Source: Glendale Police Department via LA Times
In a two-pronged attack, this week the defense team released to the media a report from an anonymous “expert” suggesting neighboring properties, government agencies, and P G & E could have been at fault for the blaze; and at the same time, Micah Allison (Mrs Ion) took to the stage at a city council meeting to say how sorry they were and they wish that something could have been done sooner and she needs a house.
They got a crack lawyer who has represented the cream of the crop of Bay Area ruffians: the Black Panthers, the Hell’s Angels, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and Shrimp Boy. Describing the defense team leader Tony Serra as a “firebrand attorney” is perhaps in poor taste, LA Times. He seems to be earning his money, as the defense have come up with what seems like an attempt to create reasonable doubt in the minds of a jury: the fire didn’t even begin on his property, and he wasn’t even there, so how can he be culpable in any way?
On Monday, Almena’s lawyers said they had conducted their own inquiry into the fire. “Our investigation shows that Derick Almena committed no conduct amounting to criminal negligence
[Source: LA Times]
Hey, if his defense attorneys say he didn’t do it, he didn’t do it…right?
YMMV on whose fault it was that the junk piled up around the idols and altars, that staircases were constructed from wooden pallets, that 20+ people were residential sublet tenants, or that it was not a licensed venue for
occult trance rituals all-night dance parties with DJs and live fire performances.
Micah On The Mic
Micah Allison, the wife of Derrick Ion Almena, spoke publicly for the first time at a special meeting in Oakland on January 23.
She complained about unfair treatment from neighbors and the media, and that more had not been done earlier by the council – because now she and her husband have to carry a heavy weight on their shoulders.
She turned up at a special meeting of the City Council on Monday, where legislators were considering several proposals aimed at shoring up tenant protections and providing an emergency moratorium on evictions from unpermitted live/work spaces that spiked in the wake of the deadly blaze.
“The main thing I wanted to say is how sorry I am for what happened on Dec. 2,” Allison said, before thanking the activists and organizers at the meeting. “I wish that more had been done before because we carry a really heavy weight on our shoulders right now.”
But Allison spent the majority of her time at the podium decrying the treatment she said her family has received from the media and former neighbors, who she claimed thwarted a recent attempt to move back into an Oakland house where they had lived previously.
“It’s been pretty terrible what they’ve done to my family,” Allison said, speaking about media reports.
She continued, describing a former landlord who offered to let them stay in exchange for replacing windows and painting the older home.
“The neighbors, who were my friends during the entire time I lived in that house before, got wind that we were going to move back into the house because our landlord really loved us and wanted to help our family,” she said. “In a couple hours, or over a 24-hour period, they contacted the landlord and said that if they let us move back into the house that they would cause a lot of trouble for him over his house.”
The deal would have allowed the family some stability to enable them to “start changing this narrative that’s gone out about Satya Yuga, the Ghost Ship, my family, my husband, myself,” she said, referring to the art collective occupying the warehouse
Allison expressed frustration about trying to find a stable place to live while keeping her three children in their Fruitvale-area schools.
“In order to keep my kids in school, I need a house,” she said
[Source: East Bay Times]
A house for the kids would have been a great idea, rather than a venue for underground
raves all night DJ parties. 36 people including one minor might still be alive if that had occurred to them earlier. But is this really the City Council’s problem? They should be investigating this woman, not giving her a house. Her desire to “start changing this narrative” emerged the same day the defense team released their report. This act may have been more strategic than spontaneous.
Here is the anonymous expert report being used by the Defense team. It seems long on speculation and short on actual evidence.
A good report on the report from Matthias Gafni and Katrina Cameron at the San Jose Mercury News:
OAKLAND — The defense team for Derick Almena released a report Monday alleging that the deadly fire that killed 36 people last year started not in the now infamous Ghost Ship artists collective, but rather in an adjacent building.
In a 10-page report released Monday, prepared by an unnamed investigator hired by Almena’s defense team, also pointed the finger at PG&E for inadequate electrical inputs into the building. Almena’s attorneys argue the findings should relieve their client of any criminal liability. It is not the first time that Almena’s lawyers have sought to deflect blame from their client: last month they said government agencies were at fault.
The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office has been investigating Almena, who was the master tenant at the Fruitvale warehouse, and others for possible criminal charges in the Dec. 2 blaze. The office declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation. But an expert who reviewed the evidence offered by Almena’s legal team, was not convinced.
The report, which cites various photos of the buildings on the 1300 block of 31st Avenue from street level and above, raises questions about how electricity was delivered to the warehouse and adjacent buildings. It has various conclusions, including that “there must have been enough heat PRIOR TO the entry into Ghost Ship section for fire to occur.”
“The defense team for Derick Ion Almena has received a reliable scientific report … indicating that the origin of the fire was at the building adjacent to the so-called Ghost Ship warehouse,” attorneys Jeffrey Krasnoff, Kyndra Miller and Tony Serra wrote in a statement. “Such should reasonably foreclose any criminal negligence charges against Mr. Almena. Recall that the ATF could not conclude where the fire originated. The reasonable doubt here is overwhelming.”
Dan Rapperport, a fire and explosion investigator and president of Rapperport Associates, reviewed the report and found the theory that the fire started next door a “stretch.”
“They did not offer compelling evidence to me, as a fire investigator, that the origin of the fire started outside the Ghost Ship space,” he said in a phone interview. It is not surprising that the massive fire would create roof and other fire damage on adjacent buildings, he said.
However, Rapperport said, the report makes a valid point that PG&E’s conductors from outer power poles may have been undersized. The photos show “undersized wiring” leading into the building, meaning the PG&E capacity for electrical current from outside could have been below the inside capacity of the Ghost Ship wiring, he said. That could have led to overloaded wiring which could cause a short or ignite a fire, however that doesn’t mean PG&E is necessarily to blame, he added.
“There’s legacy wiring going into the place and if they’re using more power than PG&E ever anticipated, it’s up to the user to call PG&E to say I need more power,” Rapperport said.
Tamar Sarkissian, a PG&E spokeswoman, said records over the last decade-plus show no reports of “electric theft or any other anomaly from this location or the adjacent premises. We will await the findings of the official investigation.”
Sources have told this newspaper that the cause of the fire inside the warehouse art collective was overloaded electrical lines at the rear of the structure.
The Ghost Ship’s power sources — an ad hoc network of extension cords stretched through a maze of small dwelling units and studios — all fed from one line coming through a hole punched in the wall to a neighboring business, a person familiar with the wiring has said. The sources did not mention the fire started outside the warehouse.
Criminal defense attorney Dan Horowitz said Almena’s defense team are creating a jury defense to “humanize” their client.
“Make him sad, sorry and pathetic. Have a cause that blames someone else ‘scientifically’. Then ignore the fact that the place was an illegal electrical nightmare and an accident waiting to happen,” he said. “Let’s say the fire came from the sky. A lightning bolt. Sprinklers, exit doors, clear pathways and the hellish death of dozens would have been avoided.”
A spokeswoman with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms declined to comment Monday on specifics, saying the Oakland Fire Department final report has not been completed.
In a statement late Monday, Karen Boyd, Oakland’s communications director, said that the ATF and the Oakland Fire Department are “collaborating on a comprehensive investigation of the 31st Avenue warehouse fire. The investigation will yield a report that addresses the cause and origin of the fire. That report will be forwarded to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office as part of the ongoing criminal investigation. It’s premature to speculate about the origin of the fire until all investigations are complete.”
Almena’s defense team declined to name the author of their report, but said he was an expert “qualified by both education and experience.”
[Source: Mercury News]
The witness account of the wiring coming through the wall conflicts with the images in the report, taken from the outside of the building.
Show Me The Money
Almost a million dollars was raised in a crowdfunding appeal for the victims, and now almost 2 months after the fire $0 from that has been handed out to them. The charity that took the money, Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, is deeply in bed with the Burning Man Project, which may explain the redistribution inefficiency. Money donated via the Oakland A’s, Raiders, and Warriors was distributed in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.
From the Gray Area January 25 2017 press release:
“The first phase of allocations for the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts’ Fund —set up as an immediate response to the Ghostship tragedy—have been reviewed by a research committee and program managers and approved by the Gray Area Board of Directors. As of January 25, 2017, 136 intake forms have been qualified. Documentation will be requested, and funds will be dispersed immediately upon receipt of qualification documentation.
To fully allocate the second phase of funds, Gray Area still needs those who may qualify to submit the required intake form. The form has been available since December 7, 2016, via the foundation’s site at http://grayarea.org/initiative/fire-relief-fund/. The deadline to complete an intake form has been established as March 7, 2017 (90 days from the publishing date).
In other words, coming soon.
Intake forms: the new burner profile? The whole process rhymes with Burning Man, that’s for sure.
Josette Melchor, Executive Director and Founder of Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, has been on the advisory board for the Burning Man Project since January 2012. In 2010 they received an Honorarium grant for Syzygryd, an art project for “Interpretive Arson”. Gray Area Chairman Peter Hirshberg wrote about Burning Man re-inventing money and governance in the recent book From Bitcoin To Burning Man And Beyond (worth a read).
Melchor didn’t waste any time getting the money after the tragedy:
“Every penny that is donated here should go to the fire victims’ funeral expenses, medical expenses and health-related expenses,” said Josette Melchor, founder of Gray Area Foundation for The Arts. Melchor spoke for the group intent on helping victims the Monday after the fire.
“That’s our priority first and foremost,” she said.
[Source: NBC Bay Area]
She has a funny take on the meaning of “priority”. Hate to break it to you Josette, but people who need financial help for funerals need that in days after the death, not months. The same goes for people who have lost their home and all worldly possessions. I would imagine that was in the mind of any donor in the week or two following the tragedy.
Amazing how this organization was able to mobilize to rapidly that they were speaking to the press the Monday after the fire, and yet 2 months later still can’t figure out who the 36 victims were.
“Why is it taking so long?” asked Carmen Brito, a former resident of the Ghost Ship. “They know what we’re dealing with. They know we lost our home. They know we lost everything.”
Brito said she, as well as others who spoke with NBC Bay Area but declined to be identified, are in need of help. They say they received cash assistance hours after the fire from the Red Cross, which distributed money from a different fund led by the A’s, Warriors and Raiders.
But the Gray Area foundation has provided them no money.
“They kinda just didn’t seem to get it,” she said.
That surprised us. Because in December, Melchor, the Gray Area founder, said she was enlisting the Red Cross to help manage the fund.
“This is what they do. They’re good at it,” she said. “We’re not going to reinvent the wheel.”
But the Red Cross says Gray Area opted to manage the fund itself, on its own schedule.
“I would like to have seen an immediate handout,” Steele said.
NBC Bay Area has been asking Gray Area for information for weeks. On Thursday, the founder agreed to a follow-up interview. She confirmed that all the money is sitting idle in a bank account.
“We haven’t spent a dime,” Melchor said.
Melchor said she has heard people’s concerns but assures them that Gray Area is beginning to approve applications.
“Eventually, they will be getting a check, in the next days to weeks,” she said. “So, to a certain point, I think they’ll begin to be thankful. And I think most people are thankful. They are just a few vocal people who are speaking out.”
As for why it’s taken close to two months, Melchor attributed the delays to getting records from the city and the coroner, which she says the Red Cross had immediate access to.
“There was just a huge hold up in us getting the information that we needed to serve the people that were affected,” she explained.
Our research found another hiccup: a call from the Attorney General’s Office.
Records we retrieved show the state sent Gray Area three different delinquency letters in 2016 for failing to file financial records. One notice, from August, warned of the state’s “intent to suspend or revoke” its registration as a charity.
Melchor told us Gray Area was unaware of the letters until late December – in the middle of fundraising – when the Attorney General’s Office called.
“We cleared that up within 72 hours of the phone call with the Attorney General,” she said. “So, that is completely a non-issue.”
Not everyone agrees.
“That’s really a bad sign,” said Daniel Borochoff, president of CharityWatch, which scrutinizes and rates nonprofit organizations. Borochoff reviewed Gray Area’s filings as well as its online fundraiser.
He asked: “If the group can’t even get it together to get their finances reported, their basic public disclosure documents provided to the state of California and the IRS, then how can they be expected to get it together to get this huge quick influx of funds to the needed victims?”
Borochoff questioned Gray Area’s decision to administer the fund.
“There are certainly groups in the Bay Area that are better equipped and have the experience to handle a disaster such as this warehouse fire,” he said.
Melchor said her group’s recent budget exceeds the balance of $901,000 relief fund, so it is capable of handling that much money.
The victims and donors we talked to told us they just want Gray Area to distribute the money with the same urgency that the sympathetic public donated it.
“I don’t think anybody who gave money was like, ‘Yes I want this money to sit in a bank account of a foundation that’s dragging its feet.’” Brito said.
“I understand that it’s a difficult process. It’s a difficult process to weed out. But there’s got to be a way to make it happen faster,” Steele said.
Gray Area is still collecting donations. It has increased its fundraising goal several times and says it will continue to up its target
Now that Gray Area got all the information they were waiting for, checks will be going out within days or weeks. How many checks are they writing? Surely 36 checks can be written in one hour. Two if you’re slow; not weeks.
They’re still in the process of figuring out what they’re going to do with all the money. The good news is that they have formed a committee of “5 to 6”
people. If the committee can’t even decide how many members it has, it’s probably not going to be super-hasty on all the other decisions. It seems that some of the Bay Area Burner spaces might end up with the cash, rather than the immediate victims:
they are in the process of determining whether to distribute the funds to just displaced residents and victims’ families, or to a larger swath of people impacted by the fire, including DIY spaces that need support making fire-safety improvements to their spaces.
Hiding In The Shadows
Another video has surfaced on YouTube purportedly showing these people indulging in bizarre, occult behavior. Derrick Almena is not visible, but (allegedly) his voice can be heard. He is one of the adults in the skull mask seeming to terrorize the child. YouTube comments identify the man whose face is shown as Michael Allison, Micah’s father.
Is it really them? Hard for me to say either way, but it would be an awful lot of trouble to go to just to troll somebody that is potentially under police and ATF investigation. The claims of drug and sex parties were also made in the Daily Mail. I couldn’t find Micah Allison on Etsy but they do sell voodoo dolls.
Michael Allison, Micah’s father. Image: Daily Mail