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Crime

Owner of Oakland Warehouse Loft Arrested in Connection with 2016 Fire that Killed 36

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Derick Almena
Glendale Police Department

California police have arrested the owner of an Oakland artist’s loft where 36 partygoers died last year in a deadly fire during a rave, PEOPLE confirms.

Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies arrested 47-year-old Derick Almena — the owner of the “Ghost Ship” loft space in a warehouse — on Monday in Lake County, a Lake County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman tells PEOPLE. Almena has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the fire, jail records show.

Max Harris was also arrested in connection with the fire, ABC 7 reports. Harris served as the Ghost Ship’s creative director, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Almena’s attorneys Jeffrey Krasnoff, Kyndra Miller and J. Tony Serra did not immediately respond to a request for comment from PEOPLE. However, the trio has released a statement regarding the incident, CBS reports.

“We intend to vigorously defend him in the court of the law,” the statement reads. “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.”

Officials Say at Least 36 Dead After Fire Breaks Out During Warehouse Rave in Oakland

Almena is expected to be arraigned on Thursday. It is unclear whether the men have entered pleas and whether Harris has retained an attorney.

Both men are expected to face 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter, according to The Mercury News.

The fire broke out during a rave at the warehouse on the night of Dec. 2. Police spent days searching for missing partygoers who would later be found dead.

Approximately 100 people attended the event, which featured a performance from Madison, Wisconsin-based electronic act Golden Donna. A Facebook page for the party at the time noted that attendees could get their hair and nails done at a “secret East Oakland location,” which was announced the day of the show.

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Although investigators with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have determined the cause of the fire, their findings have not been made public, the Times reports.

Then-President Barack Obama spoke out about the tragedy, as authorities were still working to find the victims.

“Today our prayers go out to the people of Oakland, California, in the aftermath of this weekend’s deadly warehouse fire – one of the worst fires in the state’s history,” he said in a statement.

“While we still don’t know the full toll of this disaster, we do know that an American community has been devastated, and many people – including young men and women with their whole futures ahead of them – have tragically lost their lives.”

The Ghost Ship — a DIY venue — operated inside a warehouse building that was reportedly used by artists as studios and living spaces.

“Habitability” complaints had been made about the building to owner of the entire warehouse space — not Almena, who only owns the loft — with one complaint filed in the month before the fire, according to the East Bay Express.

Former employees initially pointed the finger at the owner, telling KGO that Almena laughed off warnings from police and fire officials about the building’s fire hazard.