Ghost Ship Fire Defendant Derick Almena Released on Bail Over Coronavirus Concerns

Ghost Ship master tenant Derick Almena during his first day of testimony in the 2019 criminal trial in which he faced 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter. He is set to be retried this year. (Vicki Behringer/KQED)

Derick Almena, the man charged with 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter for the deaths of three dozen people in a 2016 fire that burned through a converted Oakland warehouse known as the Ghost Ship, was released from jail Monday over coronavirus concerns.

Almena, who's been behind bars since 2017, was released after a court hearing by phone, the Alameda County Sheriff's Office said. He will be under electronic monitoring while he awaits his retrial.

Prosecutors allege Almena, who was the master tenant on the Ghost Ship's lease, was criminally negligent when he turned the industrial building into a residence for artists and held events without proper permits.

The building was packed with furniture, extension cords and other flammable material but had only two exits and no smoke detectors, fire alarms or sprinklers, prosecutors say.

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A jury deadlocked on the charges against Almena in September, and a new trial has been scheduled for July. His co-defendant, Max Harris, was acquitted of the same charges.

At least 35 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported at the Santa Rita Jail where Almena was held. According to his attorneys, a report by jail medical staff said Almena's psychological and physical health were in jeopardy.

Almena was released in the rural community of Upper Lake, where his wife and children live. He is banned from contacting relatives of victims or witnesses. He cannot leave home unless a court gives written approval, and any violation can send him back to jail.

Almena posted $150,000 bail last month, and officials verified where he is staying Monday, the last step for his release, the newspaper reported.

Jails and prisons in California and across the U.S. have released inmates in response to the pandemic, with crowded quarters and a lack of protective equipment making it ripe for the virus to spread behind bars.