The most veteran member of a deeply corrupt Baltimore police unit was sentenced Friday to 18 years, becoming the sixth member of the disbanded squad to head to federal prison.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake handed down the punishment to former Gun Trace Task Force member Daniel Hersl, who had a reputation as a dirty officer stretching back years. The 48-year-old was the oldest member of the disbanded unit.
Wearing a red jail jumpsuit, Hersl shrugged in resignation as he was led out of the courtroom in front of a gallery holding about a dozen supporters. One relative called out, “We love you, Danny” as he was escorted away.
Federal prosecutor Leo Wise asserted that the ex-detective “devalued” people he dealt with as a city law enforcer and “abused his power to prey on them.” He said he also ripped off taxpayers by committing rampant overtime fraud, including an entire month that he spent refurbishing his house while on the force’s clock.
A federal jury had found him guilty of racketeering and robbery earlier this year. Hersl had sought a new trial early Friday, but Blake rejected the request.
His defense attorney, William Purpura, never denied that his client took money but argued that it didn’t rise to charges of robbery or extortion.
Outside the courthouse, Purpura told reporters he will file an appeal. He has 14 days to do so.
Three of Hersl’s siblings spoke on his behalf before he was sentenced, leading their younger brother to dab his eyes with tissues. Purpura read one 2017 letter Hersl wrote to his family from jail saying he was being transferred to his fourth lockup in eight months because some inmates had hatched a plan to choke him with shoelaces.
Hersl was one of eight indicted members of the once-lauded Gun Trace Task Force, which was tasked with getting illegal guns off the streets of a city plagued by violent crime. He had pleaded not guilty to racketeering and robbery charges along with another officer, Marcus Taylor.
During their trial, jurors heard nearly three weeks of testimony from drug dealers, a crooked bail bondsman and four disgraced task force colleagues who detailed astonishing levels of misconduct.
Evidence included a call recorded by the FBI that captured several of the detectives’ voices during and after a chaotic high-speed chase was set into motion when unit supervisor Sgt. Wayne Jenkins tried to stop a car he suspected of having some kind of contraband worth looting.
After the chase resulted in a two-car wreck, officers could be heard telling each other that Jenkins didn’t want anybody to “call it in” or get involved in providing help. When discussing what kind of response they could feasibly have if they get linked to the accident, Hersl could be heard saying: “Hey, I was in this car, just driving home.” He then chuckles.
On Friday, Wise told Blake that this recording “gave a very chilling sense of how (Hersl) viewed himself and how he viewed the community he was supposed to serve.”
Wise asked for a 20-year prison sentence. Blake imposed 18, the same total number of years that Taylor received.
The six other indicted task force members all pleaded guilty in the federal investigation. Four of them testified as witnesses for the government during the trial for Hersl and Taylor.
Now that Hersl has been sentenced, only two disgraced members of the rogue unit have yet to receive their punishments. Ex-detectives Jemell Rayam and Momodu Gondo, who have both cooperated with the government, don’t have sentencing dates set yet and there’s speculation that U.S. prosecutors intend to continue using their testimony moving forward.
Scores of cases involving the officers have already been dropped and many fear numerous hardened criminals will go free. Wise said that while innocent victims have been cleared now that the corrupt unit has been exposed, he believes that “far great numbers” of “armed violent offenders will be released” due to their corrupt actions.