A Baltimore man who maintained his innocence but pleaded guilty to a federal gun crime is asking for a judge to vacate his sentence, citing corruption allegations against one of the arresting officers.
Christopher Jones, 29, said he saw no other option but to plead guilty despite asserting that Det. Daniel Hersl had falsely accused him of possessing drugs and a handgun in East Baltimore in November 2013.
“In this case, Jones knew the officers were lying, but he did not have the evidence to prove this,” his attorney, C. Justin Brown, wrote in a motion filed Wednesday. “Because he believed there was no way to establish that Hersl was lying, Jones’ [then] attorney viewed the government’s case as a strong one and advised Jones to plead guilty.”
Hersl is now one of eight members of the Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force charged with robbing and extorting citizens, falsifying records, and taking fraudulent overtime pay. New allegations leveled against Hersl in a superseding indictment pre-date his time on the gun task force, to when he worked in the Eastern District.
Hersl has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and a trial could take place in January.
Hersl's attorney, William Purpura Jr., noted that none of the allegations against his client involve planting evidence. He said word is going around jails and prisons that those arrested by the indicted officers will have their cases dismissed, referring to cases already dropped or being considered for dismissal by city prosecutors.
"I am not surprised that defendants are attempting to avoid prosecution by making these claims," Purpura said.
Federal authorities have not accused Hersl of planting evidence in any of the cases cited in two indictments.
Jones received 41 months in federal prison after pleading guilty, and was released from federal prison in November 2016. While on supervised release Jones was re-arrested in Baltimore County and charged with several drug offenses, which are pending. His release was revoked in March of this year, and he was sentenced to another year in prison in May, which he is currently serving.
Brown says allegations against Hersl date close in time to when Jones was federally indicted, and “reveal that Hersl has engaged in a pattern of fraudulent and criminal misconduct as an officer.”
Jones’ motion includes a letter he wrote to the judge in his case, Catherine Blake, in March 2015.
“I am a victim of racial discrimination, false statements and police misconduct,” Jones wrote in the letter. “These cops have planted drugs and a firearm on me.”
Jones’ federal public defender, Gary Christopher, also signed an affidavit saying Jones had always asserted that the evidence against him was planted.
“He repeatedly told me that Baltimore City police — specifically Officer Daniel Hersl — had planted the drugs and gun for which he was charged,” Christopher wrote.
The statement of charges filed against Jones was not written by Hersl, but another officer he was working with that day. None of the other officers involved in the arrest have been charged with wrongdoing. Brown said the arrest report nevertheless relies on accounts from Hersl, which throw the case into question.
Police wrote in their report that they were working in plainclothes in an unmarked vehicle when they saw Jones, who they recognized from previous encounters, drop a clear bag on the ground. Police said the bag contained suspected cocaine and suspected marijuana, packaged for distribution.
Police said while waiting to be taken to jail on drug charges, Jones spoke to Hersl and offered to “get you a gun.”
“Based on my expertise, I know that it is common practice for narcotics dealers to attempt to bribe police by offering a handgun in exchange for them being arrested,” police wrote in charging documents.
Police said Hersl advised Jones of his Miranda rights, and Jones directed him to an area where he could find a gun, saying he had personally put it there. Two other officers found a Glock pistol, and Jones was charged with a handgun offense.
Jones recalls the encounter this way: He said Hersl, who had arrested him nine days earlier, spotted him talking on the phone and handcuffed him and frisked him. After several minutes of searching around the block, Hersl returned with a bag of drugs and suggested they belonged to Jones.
Jones says Hersl offered to let him go in exchange for a gun; he said Hersl threatened him that if the officers were able to find a gun, they would pin it on him, according to his court filing. Jones was put in a transport van.
“After about 20 minutes, Hersl came back … with a gun and told Jones, ‘This is yours,’” Brown wrote. “At first, Jones thought this was a joke; but he was transferred to the Eastern District precinct, where Hersl again asked Jones to get him a gun.”
Brown wrote that the allegations against Hersl not only “completely destroys Hersl’s credibility, but it helps prove Jones’ innocence.”
Jones has several prior drug-related arrests, none of which involved Hersl, and in 2006 and 2009 was charged with possessing a firearm in Baltimore County and the city. He was not convicted in either gun case.