Federal judge denies former Baltimore Gun Trace Task Force Detective Daniel Hersl compassionate release

Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun/TNS

BALTIMORE — Former Baltimore police Detective Daniel Hersl, who earned a reputation as a particularly brutal member of the department’s rogue Gun Trace Task Force on his way to federal convictions for robbing citizens, won’t be released from prison yet.

U.S. District Judge George L. Russell III denied Hersl’s request for compassionate release, writing in an order Monday that the need to deter others from committing crimes akin to those committed by the disgraced detective outweighed his sympathy for Hersl, who has terminal cancer.

“The nature and circumstances of the offense are extremely serious,” Russell wrote. “The defendant and others within the criminal organization used their legally authorized police powers to commit violent robberies against Baltimore city residents. The defendant and his co-conspirators not only irreparably damaged the victims of their criminal acts but the reputation of the Baltimore City Police Department and the many law abiding public servants therein.”

“A message certainly needs to be sent,” the judge continued, “that if you commit criminal conduct or otherwise engage in a racketeering conspiracy you will be held accountable and punished.”

In addition to participating in a criminal conspiracy with other members of the since-disbanded Gun Trace Task Force, a jury in 2018 found Hersl guilty of robbing citizens and extensive overtime fraud. A judge sentenced him to 18 years in federal prison.

Slated for release in 2031, according to court documents, Hersl moved in October for compassionate release because of a prostate cancer diagnosis deemed terminal. Doctors in Missouri, where Hersl is in a federal prison medical facility, found his cancer had spread to his ribs, lungs, lymph nodes and liver, estimating in September that Hersl had 18 months to live. The former detective cited the prognosis in his request to spend his remaining months with family in Maryland.

William B. Purpura, Hersl’s attorney, included in a filing messages his client sent him from prison.

“My tailbone and ribs are in constant pain and my reaction time and body movements are really slowing down. ... When I lay in bed at nite [sic] my body trembles so violently and my heart races so fast that I wonder if I will even awake in the morning. Bill[,] I’m scared. I hope I can at least make the trip home to spend time with my son & family before my days are done,” Hersl wrote to his attorney on Nov. 15.

In another filing, Purpura foreshadowed a painful death and said the federal prison system was ill-equipped to provide the palliative care Hersl needed.

Federal prosecutors objected to Hersl’s request, conceding that his diagnosis met one legal criteria for compassionate release, but that his crimes and record in prison outweighed his illness.

“A terminal diagnosis is indisputably devastating news for the defendant and his friends and family,” prosecutors wrote. “The defendant’s prognosis, however, does not end the compassionate release inquiry. ... Here, the defendant used his uniform and his gun to rob victims, and he and his co-conspirators caused immeasurable damage to the criminal justice system and to the community in Baltimore City. The defendant has expressed no remorse, and he accepts no responsibility for his conduct.”

Hersl had two infractions while incarcerated, for refusing to obey an order in 2020 and disruptive conduct in 2022, according to court records.

In his order, Russell described the infractions as “noteworthy.”

“His behavior,” the judge wrote, “demonstrates a continued lack of of personal accountability.”