Five executives at The Amerland Group, a local developer that specializes in building and operating affordable housing projects, have been charged with manslaughter and more than 100 counts of elder abuse in relation to a 2008 fire at a property they operated in Vallejo in which four people died.

The complaint filed by the Solano County District Attorney names Amerland owners Jules Arthur and Ruben Islas Jr. as defendants, in addition to three other executives who either worked at Amerland or at a subsidiary company that operated the Vallejo building.

I wrote about The Amerland Group’s troubled history in this piece last summer. I described the fire and the legal fallout from it in the story.

Here’s a snippet:

As the fire raged through the top floors of the building, residents, firefighters and staff went door-to-door in the complex helping the tenants evacuate the building. Four people died as a result of the fire.
No fire alarm ever sounded inside the Casa de Vallejo, according to the [Vallejo Fire Department’s investigation] report. No flashing lights alerted the elderly, frail residents to the fire raging above their heads. The fire department report is clear about why the alarm didn’t sound:
“Unbeknownst to the Vallejo Fire Department until after this fire, and without neither permission nor prior notification, since approximately June 2008 and up to and including this fire incident of August 15, 2008, the fire alarm contractor (SimplexGrinnell) had disabled the onsite horn and/or horn strobe devices.”

When I spoke to Amerland co-owner Arthur last year, he said the fire was a “horrible accident” and said his company was in litigation with SimplexGrinnell over the fire alarm system. When I called him just now, he declined to comment.

But Deputy District Attorney Karen Jensen, who is handling the case, said her investigation found that Amerland, not the fire alarm contractor, was ultimately responsible for the alarm not sounding. She declined to give any more details, but said nobody at SimplexGrinnell has been charged.

Amerland owns four affordable housing properties in San Diego and operates and owns several properties around the state.

As I outlined in my story last year, the company has found itself in legal trouble before. In 2008, the company and its principals pleaded no contest to 36 criminal charges brought by the Los Angeles city attorney for failing to maintain fire protection equipment at two downtown Los Angeles buildings. In 2009, the company paid more than $500,000 to residents at another LA building after it was accused of cutting off water supplies and squeezing out low-income and African-American renters.


Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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