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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Columbia

Friday, June 5, 2015

Maryland Man Pleads Guilty to Setting Fire To Ex-Girlfriend's Apartment Building in Southeast Washington

Fire Led to Evacuations of Four Units in Building

            WASHINGTON – Joseph F. Brown, 42, of Bladensburg, Md., pled guilty today to charges of arson and second-degree burglary for intentionally setting fire to his ex-girlfriend’s apartment building earlier this year, Acting U.S. Attorney Vincent H. Cohen Jr. announced.

            Brown entered the guilty plea in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.  The Honorable Yvonne M. Williams is to sentence him on July 31, 2015. Brown faces a statutory maximum of 15 years of imprisonment as well as a potential fine.

            According to the government’s evidence, on April 4, 2015, Brown went to visit his ex-girlfriend at her apartment in the 3200 block of 11th Place SE.  At approximately 1 a.m., she asked Brown to leave. Shortly after she asked him to leave, she heard a loud explosion by her front door. She looked out the window and saw Brown running out of her building with his sleeve on fire. She also saw flames and smoke coming through her front door. She then saw Brown pull in front of her apartment building, blow the horn in his car, and drive away.

            A witness also had seen Brown running out of the building with his sleeve on fire. The witness heard Brown yell, “How do you like that?” Brown also shouted profanities toward his ex-girlfriend’s window. Shortly after the incident, Brown sent her a text message that read, in relevant part, “you worried bout me setting your building on fire..you lucky it wasn’t you..”

            All four of the apartments in the building were occupied, and all had to be evacuated. Several young children were among the residents who had to evacuate. No one was injured.

            Firefighters with the District of Columbia Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services arrived shortly thereafter and saw smoke and flames coming from the front of the building. After the fire was extinguished, a fire investigator responded to the scene and conducted a complete origin and cause fire scene investigation. The investigation revealed that the fire was incendiary--that is, intentionally set--using gasoline as an accelerant.

            The building was deemed uninhabitable, and the residents were forced to relocate as a result of the arson. Brown was arrested May 13, 2015, and has been in custody ever since.

            In announcing the plea, Acting U.S. Attorney Cohen praised the work of those who investigated the case from the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Service’s Fire Investigations Unit.  He also expressed appreciation for the assistance of the U.S. Marshals Service and the Metropolitan Police Department. He acknowledged the work of those who handled the case for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Victim/Witness Advocates Maria Shumar and Elsa Resendiz and Paralegal Specialist Erica Vample.

            Finally, he commended the work of Assistant U.S. Attorney Elana Suttenberg, who investigated and prosecuted the matter.

Press Release Number: 
Updated June 5, 2015