Baltimore police probe impound lot security in wake of car theft

Crime,Therese Umerlik
The investigation into the theft of a car from Baltimore’s impound lot is now focused on how crucial information may have leaked from the facility’s internal records.

A high-ranking source familiar with the investigation said police are now probing if the man charged in the case had help obtaining records regarding the car’s owner, condition and vehicle identification number — information the defendant would have needed to take the car off the lot without the owner’s consent.

Charging documents allege Juwann Smith, 26, of the 300 block of Garden Gate Lane in Annapolis, presented a fake notarized document with the forged signature of the car’s owner, Antonio Brown, when the 2003 Volkswagen Passat was picked up Oct. 29.

Police allege Smith presented the fake letter along with his driver’s license to an impound lot employee, who released the car to Smith two days before Brown went to claim it. 

But impound lot regulations require either the vehicle registration or Maryland Motor Vehicles Administration title to claim a car, so investigators are probing how Smith obtained either document — or if he was allowed to take the car without presenting the necessary documentation.

Brown said the car’s registration was in the car’s glove compartment, and that he has a copy of the title.

Police spokesman Troy Harris said how Smith obtained documentation to take the car is part of the ongoing investigation, which may include multiple suspects.

“We are currently seeing how deep the rabbit hole is,” Harris said Thursday.

The Baltimore Police Department’s Regional Auto Theft Task Force arrested Smith on Tuesday at the impound lot. He has been charged with forgery, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle and felony theft.

Calls to the phone number listed for his Annapolis address were not returned by press time.

The arrest came several days after Brown said someone had picked up his car from the city’s Pulaski Highway impound lot without his permission.

Brown said that when he arrived at the facility Oct. 31, the impound employee told him a man named “Juan Smith” had already picked up the car. Brown, who said he did not know anyone by that name, then reported the car stolen.

After posting $10,000 bond, Smith was released.

He is scheduled for trial Dec. 19.

Police said they have yet to locate Brown’s car.

“At this point, we do not know where it is,” Harris said.

Meanwhile, new details of the circumstances surrounding the suspension of a city police officer who worked at the impound lot emerged.

Sources familiar with the investigation said the officer, whom police have yet to name, was dismissing tickets and fines levied against motorists in exchange for cash.

Police do not believe the officer’s case is related to the theft of the Passat.
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