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File - In this Dec. 3, 2016 file image from video provided by KGO-TV shows the Ghost Ship Warehouse after a fire swept through the Oakland, Calif., building. A source close to the investigation tells The Associated Press Monday, June 5, 2017, that two men have been arrested and will be charged with involuntary manslaughter in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire that killed 36 partygoers. (KGO-TV via AP, File)

Two men were charged in connection with Oakland's deadly Ghost Ship fire


Two men were charged Monday in connection with a deadly Oakland, California, warehouse fire that killed 36 people in December. 

Derick Almena, 47, and Max Harris, 27, were each charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter. Both are being held on bail of nearly $1.1 million.

Officials say Almena, who operated the warehouse known as the Ghost Ship, illegally converted it into a home for artists and musicians struggling to survive in the expensive San Francisco Bay area. 

When a fire broke out during an electronic dance party at the Ghost Ship, prosecutors said the two men blocked access to one exit near the spot where a DJ had set up. 

By doing so, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley told reporters the two men "knowingly created a fire trap with inadequate means of escape. They then filled that area with human beings and are now facing the consequences of their action."

If convicted on all counts, the men could face up to 39 years in prison. 

Almena's lawyers called their client a "scapegoat."

"We believe that these charges represent no less than a miscarriage of justice and we are confident that this attempt to make a scapegoat out of our client will fail," attorneys Kyndra Miller, J. Tony Serra and Jeffrey Krasnoff said in a joint statement.

It is unclear whether Harris has obtained a lawyer. 

O'Malley did not say whether more people would be charged, but did say officials have concluded their investigation. 

Mary Alexander, who is representing the families of the fire victims, is suing Almena, Harris and the owner of the building, Chor Nar Siu Ng. Ng was not charged. 

The lawsuits filed by Alexander and other lawyers also named Pacific Gas & Electric, alleging the utility company should have known the warehouse was not wired properly. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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