BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A federal judge has sentenced a former Baltimore police detective to 18 years in prison as part of one of the city’s biggest corruption scandals.
Earlier this year, a jury convicted Det. Daniel Hersl in a string of armed robberies while he was part of an elite Baltimore City Police gun unit–the Gun Trace Task Force. Hersl is the sixth officer sentenced so far.
His brother, Stephen Hersl, wept outside the courthouse, telling WJZ that the family would “fight for him.” He blamed top police brass for the scandal and did not believe his brother committed any crimes.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you he had bad actions,” the brother said.
Another brother, Jerome Hersl, recounted how the detective had received the department’s highest honor six years ago for saving his partner’s life.
“He saved many lives,” he said, and added that his brother took more guns off the street “than he could count… We haven’t heard the good things about the GTTF.”
Daniel Hersl never made any comments in court. Unlike some of the others convicted, he never apologized to his victims.
Hersl’s defense attorney William Purpura told WJZ Investigative Reporter Mike Hellgren that his client was remorseful. He also said he would appeal the sentence.
Judge Catherine Blake denied Hersl’s motion for a new trial. Hersl’s defense argued one of his victims perjured himself on the stand and was caught with an illegal weapon as part of a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigation the same day he testified against Hersl at trial.
The judge found the revelation would not have changed the verdict and denied the motion.
“It is an abuse of the public trust,” Blake said of Hersl’s crimes. “There must be a clear message that officers who break their oaths…will be justly punished for that conduct.”
She said the corruption has “made the job more difficult for other officers.”
The government had asked for a 20-year sentence — the maximum under federal guidelines was 21 years.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise called the Gun Trace Task Force “a gang of thieves.” He recounted how Hersl stole money from one victim then demanded that another officer perform a rectal cavity search on him.
“It wasn’t enough he took his money, he wanted to take his dignity. It was an act of sadism,” Wise told the judge.
Outside the courthouse, Hellgren spoke to a tearful Alex Hilton who claims he was harassed for years by Hersl.
“I’m just trying to put the pieces of my life back together,” he said.
Hellgren also previously spoke to rapper Young Moose, who said Hersl “attacked” him.
The longest sentence handed down so far has been 25 years for former Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, who once headed the GTTF. The shortest has been seven years for two detectives who cooperated with federal authorities.
Three officers involved have yet to resolve their fate in the investigation that began as a probe into a heroin overdose in Harford County and lead authorities straight inside the Baltimore City Police Department.
Prosecutors say Hersl and others targeted those on the “margins of society” — victims who had criminal records and were unlikely to come forward, much less be believed.
“These were police officers,” Wise said. “They weren’t pirates. They weren’t entitled to take what they thought was tainted drug money.”
Hersl was also convicted of stealing tens of thousands of dollars in overtime, fraudulently claiming hours worked on his time and attendance record. Wise said he “bilked taxpayers” and that Hersl was “one of the reasons children sit in classrooms with no heat” — referring to infrastructure problems in the city’s schools that received national attention last winter.
Hersl received the same sentence as former Det. Marcus Taylor, who also chose to have a jury decide his fate instead of taking a plea deal.