Former Baltimore detective Daniel Hersl was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison for racketeering. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
Convicted former Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force detective Daniel Hersl, who gained a reputation as one of the city’s roughest cops before being indicted on racketeering charges last year, was sentenced Friday to 18 years in federal prison.
Hersl, 48, became the sixth officer to be sentenced in the case, in which members of his gun squad were found to have used the authority of their guns and badges to steal thousands of dollars from people while bilking taxpayers for overtime pay when they weren’t working.
Hersl “devalued people,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise said Friday morning in court, “and thought the law didn’t protect them, and abused his power to prey on them. That’s what he did.”
The charges stemmed from a 2016 wiretap investigation, and prosecutors uncovered additional incidents of Hersl stealing money that dated to 2014. Hersl was convicted by a jury with co-defendant Marcus Taylor. They received the same sentence.
Some of the officers charged in the case attracted few if any complaints before they were indicted. But Hersl had a reputation on the streets: He drew dozens of complaints, and the city paid $200,000 to settle three lawsuits against him. He was accused of breaking a man’s jaw and nose, breaking a woman’s arm, and arresting a woman who was selling church raffle tickets. The popular East Baltimore rapper Young Moose publicly accused Hersl of targeting and harassing him.
“They get away with everything,” he rapped in one song. “When the [expletive] this gonna stop?”
Hersl’s family asked U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake to show leniency. Jerome Hersl, the former detective’s oldest brother, told Blake that Daniel Hersl received the Baltimore Police Department’s highest honor, the Medal of Honor, in 2012 for saving the life of a partner who had been shot.
Hersl also took hundreds of illegal guns off the streets, his brother said.
“That’s got to count for something,” Jerome Hersl said.
Blake said she didn’t doubt that Hersl put himself in harm’s way or that he was beloved by his family. But she said the officers in the Gun Trace Task Force breached the public trust and made the job of officers in Baltimore more difficult.
Earlier Friday, Blake rejected Hersl’s request for a new trial. His attorney, William Purpura, argued that a federal investigation that led to the arrest of one of the victims who testified against Hersl at his trial should have been disclosed by prosecutors. Purpura said the new gun and drug allegations against the victim undercut the prosecution’s assertions that some of the victims were innocent citizens.
Hersl pleaded not guilty to the federal racketeering charges. At trial Purpura conceded that Hersl had taken money, but said his crimes amounted to theft instead of robbery, a predicate charge under the federal racketeering statute. He said Hersl had the legal authority to stop people and seize drugs, guns and money.
Wise, the federal prosecutor, said the argument was hollow. He said the officers often stopped people with no legal authority. In one incident, a Carroll County man and his wife were detained by the Gun Trace Task Force officers and taken to their home. The officers searched until they found a heat-sealed bag containing money. They took $25,000 and left without charging the couple with any crimes, as nothing illegal was recovered.
“This wasn’t legitimate police work with an incidental lapse of judgment,” Wise told Blake.
The officers regularly failed to come in on time for their shifts, then worked overtime but collected for additional hours that they did not work. Pay stubs showed Hersl was receiving money for working during a month that he took off to work on his new home in Joppa, in Harford County.
“When the children of Baltimore sit in schools that aren’t heated … it’s because of the behavior of people like defendant Hersl,” Wise said.
Purpura, his defense attorney, continued to challenge the credibility of the witnesses brought by the government, saying they falsely claimed to not be involved in illegal activity. He read from letters that Hersl wrote to family members, showing the struggles he was having in jail.
In one letter, Hersl said fellow inmates had learned who he was and were plotting to strangle him with shoelaces. He said he was being held in protective custody, where he was not given the opportunity to go outside, and had been moved to four detention facilities in eight months.
Purpura said Hersl speaks regularly to his 10-year-old son and writes letters, but doesn’t want him to see his father in jail.
“You’re a very smart boy, and you make me so happy and proud,” he wrote to his son in a letter read by Purpura.
Hersl did not address the court during Friday’s hearing.
There been no public accounting by the Police Department of how the Gun Trace Task Force, which was lauded for its work getting guns off the street, escaped closer scrutiny. A task force created by the General Assembly to investigate the gun unit’s misconduct is expected to begin work later this year.
Two officers — partners Momodu Gondo and Jemell Rayam — have not been scheduled for sentencing, suggesting the government intends to continue to use them in ongoing investigations. Federal prosecutors said earlier this month that they continue to probe additional allegations.
Bail bondsman Donald Stepp, who helped Jenkins redistribute drugs, is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 3. Philadelphia Police Officer Eric Snell, who allegedly conspired with Rayam to redistribute drugs, has a fall trial scheduled.