Milwaukee man charged with arson in apartment complex fire near 32nd and Wisconsin

NOW: Milwaukee man charged with arson in apartment complex fire near 32nd and Wisconsin

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A 19-year-old Milwaukee man has been charged in connection to an arson investigation that left more than 100 people displaced. 

The fire happened Sunday, Dec. 26, at the Franklin Arms apartment complex near 32nd and Wisconsin in Milwaukee. A total of 139 residents were forced to evacuate and left without a home the day after Christmas. Thankfully, no one was injured. 

According to a criminal complaint, a resident of the complex reported prior to the fire, another resident -- identified as 19-year-old Avonta Brown -- was behaving strangely by throwing items out of the window of apartment #305. 

The resident told authorities he observed Brown attempting to light cardboard packaging on fire with a small disposable lighter. Smoke alarms subsequently were activated and the resident smelled smoke so he called 911. The criminal complaint says the resident pointed out Brown to authorities when he was outside the building. 

According to the complaint, Brown admitted to the arson. Brown told investigators he lived in apartment #305 for several months, and that he started the fire because he did not feel comfortable in the apartment because of a demonic presence. 

Brown allegedly stated after he started the fire, he went out into the hallway but did not pull the fire alarm. 

During the interview with investigators, authorities noted Brown was distracted and incoherent at times. 

Brown was charged with one count of arson of a building. 

Brown appeared via Zoom in court on Thursday, Dec. 30 for his initial appearance.

Court Commissioner Rosa Barillas called him a "substantial bail risk" and set his bail at $2,500 cash.

"I find the facts aggravating and that there was a fire, that the complaint alleges, was intentionally set causing essentially the whole building to be displaced. The potential harm to other individuals, I think, was great. It's lucky that no one was seriously hurt or harmed," Barillas said.

The state initially requested a $5,000 cash bail.

But with no criminal record, Heather Johnson, the attorney representing Brown, asked for much lower bail -- $500 cash.

"He was employed at UPS prior to his incarceration. Other than that he indicated that he does not have a lot of resources in terms of family or financial support so even $500 would be a significant hardship for him," said Johnson.

Commission Barillas also issued Brown a 'no contact' order for Franklin Arms apartments.

The arson is a felony charge and he faces 40 years in prison, a $100-thousand dollar fine or both.

Brown returns to court on January 5, 2022 for a preliminary hearing.

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