Baltimore — A convicted member of the Baltimore Police Department’s corrupt Gun Trace Task Force has sent more than a dozen letters in recent months to a state commission created by the legislature to study how to restore trust in police — arguing his innocence and complaining about his treatment within the federal criminal justice system.
Former Baltimore Police Det. Daniel Hersl, convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2018 for his role in the task force’s schemes to rob people, deal drugs and steal overtime, paints a very different picture of himself — writing he was a victim of “prosecutorial misconduct" and “prison trauma” and “fabricated” stories about him.
He blames his fellow task force officers for the corruption he was convicted of taking part in, and the Baltimore Police Department for its lax oversight of overtime. He also blasts his previous attorney for suggesting during his trial that he was guilty of theft, but not robbery, even though he maintains his innocence entirely.
He claims he flagged the behavior of two of his gun task force colleagues in 2016, before federal prosecutors charged him and them in the racketeering case, but was told by a supervisor — who was later charged as well — that they “were not doing anything illegal.”
That exchange, Hersl wrote to the Commission to Restore Trust in Policing, had put him “in a dangerous ‘Serpico’ situation” — a reference to Frank Serpico, who exposed corruption as a whistle blower within the New York City Police Department and was later played by Al Pacino in the popular 1973 film “Serpico," based on his life.
Hersl also complained of not having access to documents in his case, and suggested the commission should take testimony from individuals who can vouch for him.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., is currently considering an appeal by Hersl of his conviction. Hersl wrote that his letters to the commission represent a “legal risk,” given his appeal, but also that he has “nothing to hide” and considered sharing his input with the commission "the morally and ethically right thing to do.”
Hersl’s attorney in his appeal, Stuart Berman, declined to comment on the letters.
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Alexander Williams Jr., a former judge who chairs the commission, said he will “review them in depth and determine their relevance.”
A spokeswoman for the federal prosecutor’s office in Baltimore did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.
The letters, first reported by WJZ-TV, were obtained by The Baltimore Sun through a records request to the state commission.
Hersl had a reputation on the streets of Baltimore as an allegedly abusive cop even before the GTTF came under investigation by federal prosecutors. He had drawn dozens of complaints that had cost the city $200,000 to settle, a fact The Sun wrote about in 2014. In one case, he was accused of breaking a woman’s arm. In another, he was accused of breaking a man’s jaw and nose. In a third, he was accused of arresting a woman who was selling church raffle tickets.
He is also a defendant — along with other former GTTF officers and the Baltimore police department — in several pending federal civil lawsuits.
Hersl, in his first letter to the commission, sought to justify his aggressive work in addition to denying he had broken the law.
“I had a street reputation of being an aggressive officer," he wrote, “but that was in light of defending the City, my fellow police officers and myself from an extremely dangerous and overly aggressive illegal drug trade.”