BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A third person has been charged with human trafficking after a Howard County Police investigation revealed that three suspects were working together to force a 16-year-old girl into prostitution.
Jessica Lynn Smitherman, 31, of Brooklyn Bridge Road in Laurel, was involved in a case that occurred in late May and early June, police say.
Andre Lamar Russell, 28, of Dulwick Court in Laurel, and Heather Lynn Harding, 23, of Woodbine Road
in Woodbine were previously arrested and charged in this case last month.
Investigators believe that Smitherman conspired with those suspects to force the teen into prostitution at motels in Jessup.
Smitherman allegedly helped coordinate prostitution appointments and forced the teen to perform sex acts for money, which Russell would then take for himself.
Detectives believe Smitherman also took photos of the teen that were then posted on the website Backpage, which is known to be used for prostitution, advertising sexual services with the victim.
Detectives issued a warrant for Smitherman’s arrest and she was located and charged June 30. She’s being held on $35,000 bond at the Howard County Detention Center.
Authorities say Russell is the one who originally approached the teen, previously reported as a runaway, and offered her a place to stay before sexually assaulting her and forcing her to use drugs.
On the morning of June 1, officers say they saw him and Harding at a motel in the 7500 block of Assateague Drive in Jessup. That’s where detectives found the teen and arrested Russell and Harding.
Russell was indicted June 14 on multiple counts of human trafficking, human trafficking conspiracy, assault and drug charges. He is being held on no bond. Harding was indicted June 28 on one count of human trafficking conspiracy. She was released on $35,000 bond.
Police transported the victim to a child advocacy center to connect her with appropriate housing and other services.
Anyone with information about human trafficking in Howard County should call 410-313-STOP or email HCPDcrimetips@howardcountymd.gov.