OAKLAND, Calif. -- It's a rare move to see defendants ask for more defendants to join them in a criminal case, but a judge denied a motion Monday asking for 14 more people to be arrested in the Ghost Ship fire case.
Attorneys for defendants Derick Almena and Max Harris filed the motion to compel a citizen's arrest, which called for the arrest of 14 others for the fatal Dec. 2, 2016, warehouse fire in East Oakland that killed 36 people. Included in the list was landlord Chor Ng, and her children Eva and Kai Ng, who served as building managers.
The motion itself alleged probable cause to arrest the list of 14 people, who in the months and years leading up to the deadly fire had all been inside the warehouse itself either as inspectors or partygoers, and knew of the dangers inside. The list includes a building inspector, a Child Protective Services agent, fire department members and Oakland police officers who responded to calls at the warehouse, named the Ghost Ship.
Although Judge Trina Thompson said Monday that she was "intrigued" by the motion in this case, she pointed out that the judicial branch did not have the power to bring charges against anyone.
Just before denying the motion after lengthy arguments by both the prosecution and the defense, Judge Thompson also pointed out that her ruling did not preclude the defense from bringing evidence on a third-party culpability. This defense strategy is used by attorneys to present evidence that points to another person or people, besides the defendants themselves.
Prosecutor Autrey James argued that there was insufficient evidence so far to bring charges against the Ngs "beyond a reasonable doubt," which is the standard of proof in criminal cases.
District Attorney Nancy O'Malley herself told this newspaper last year that prosecutors could not "pin that" responsibility on the warehouse owner, the Ng family. But she also said prosecutors have not given up the possibility, if some new evidence comes to light.
James also argued that the arrest of individuals is a "discretionary act," and that arrests cannot be ordered.
Almena's defense attorney, Tony Serra, pointed the finger at politics and a public relations firm for the lack of arrest of others besides his client.
"There is a white elephant in the courtroom that no one is acknowledging ... that this is a political case," Serra said.