Baltimore prosecutors announced charges against a man suspected of a burglary in the Carrollton Ridge neighborhood that occurred the morning of a fire at a nearby vacant home that killed three firefighters.

James Barnett, 54, is accused of attempting to break into three vacant row homes at about 1:20 a.m. on Jan. 24, 2022. Prosecutors said he was seen trying to get into three homes in the 1900 block of Ashton Street, broke through the door of one of them and was seen emerging holding multiple items.

It’s rare for prosecutors to call attention to a burglary indictment, and the case was filed May 4, almost two months ago. The office declined to elaborate on why it was publicizing the case. Barnett’s public defender declined to comment.

The break-in occurred hours before a vacant home caught fire in the 200 block of South Stricker Street. Three firefighters — Lt. Paul Butrim, Lt. Kelsey Sadler and EMT/firefighter Kenny Lacayo — were killed in the collapse. Another EMT/firefighter, John McMaster, was injured.

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At a bail review hearing last month, a prosecutor said that state witnesses in the case “include the ATF bureau who was also conducting an investigation in a related incident when he [Barnett] became a person of interest in their case.”

“They had been following him for months,” Assistant State’s Attorney Shari Green said.

Kevin Stern and Dan Miller, attorneys for the families of the fallen firefighters, said investigators have kept them informed about the investigation and that they were told of the burglary charges against Barnett. They said investigators did not indicate whether he was the suspect in the fire, but it was the only such case that has been brought to their attention.

“The State’s Attorney’s Office has shared certain information with us regarding the Stricker Street fire, as well as these burglaries, and they’ve also told us there is a person of interest in the Stricker Street fire, and based on the information they’ve shared with us we believe that this is the same person,” Miller told The Baltimore Banner.

Joshua Fannon, president of Local 964 fire officers union, said the State’s Attorney’s Office has scheduled a briefing with the union next week.

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Prosecutors say facial recognition was used to connect Barnett to a second break-in, which was reported Feb. 24, 2022, in the 2000 block of Ashton Street.

“Officers observed obvious signs that a person(s) was living in the house and the electricity had been illegally hooked up,” prosecutors said in a news release.

“These break-ins, if proven to have occurred, indicate a disturbing pattern of complete disregard for personal property by the defendant,” State’s Attorney Ivan J. Bates said in a statement. “This case demonstrates my commitment to holding repeat offenders accountable for their damaging actions and providing justice to the people of our great city.”

Barnett has 12 convictions on record which include burglary, theft, drug possession, second-degree assault, handgun possession and more, officials said at Barnett’s bail hearing. His most recent one occurred on July 15, 2022. Judge Kendra Ausby ordered Barnett to serve “total house arrest with no exceptions.”

“The court finds that – although these are property crimes – the defendant is a threat to public safety. [The behavior] It appears to be habitual and or chronic,” Ausby said.

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