A federal judge denied ex-Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force member Daniel Hersl’s request that he be released early from prison.

Hersl, who is serving an 18-year sentence, requested early release last month, citing a cancer diagnosis that doctors say is likely terminal.

U.S. District Judge George L. Russell III denied the request in an order Monday, noting the severity of his crimes and saying he can receive treatment and interact with family while incarcerated.

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

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Hersl was arrested and charged with racketeering in 2017 after an FBI investigation of his unit, the Gun Trace Task Force, uncovered that officers were regularly robbing citizens of cash and drugs, lying in official documents and stealing overtime, among other things.

Hersl faced additional charges that predated his time in the unit. While some of his codefendants had minor histories of misconduct complaints, Hersl was one of the most notorious officers in the Baltimore Police Department.

He and another officer took the charges to trial in 2018, and they were convicted by a federal jury and sentenced to 18 years in prison each.

Hersl is being held at a U.S. medical center in Springfield, Missouri, and his defense attorney said in a court filing that cancer was first detected in December 2022. By August, medical staff concluded the cancer had spread throughout his body and was “likely ... terminal.” Hersl’s attorney wrote in a motion for compassionate release that he should be allowed to stay with family and receive care.

Hersl first asked the warden at his facility and was denied. He asked again, saying he was awaiting surgery that never took place. “Please give me a chance to seek my own treatment where I have trust and confidence that I’m doing everything possible to beat this cancer,” he wrote.

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Prosecutors opposed the request, saying he had “expressed no remorse, and he accepts no responsibility for his conduct.” They pointed to one of his written requests where he said he was “one of the highest decorated officer’s in BPD history.”

Hersl won the department’s Medal of Honor in 2012 for saving the life of a partner. During that time he was also racking up complaints and lawsuits, however.

“While the defendant may have received commendations and awards while employed as a police officer these accomplishments pale by comparison when considering the damage the defendant and his co-conspirators inflicted on the institutional reputation of the Baltimore City Police Department and the citizens it serves,” Russell wrote.

Earlier Monday, Hersl’s defense attorney sent a status update in which he passed along two recent messages from Hersl regarding his condition.

“I keep getting up in the morning and pushing myself and my body to keep working and moving but I’m truly running out of steam,” he wrote a Nov. 15 message. He added that when he lies in bed at night “my body trembles so violently and my heart races so fast that I wonder if I will even awake in the morning. ... 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.”

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Russell, who will become chief judge of Maryland’s federal courts next year, is now presiding over the Gun Trace Task Force defendants’ cases following the retirement of the judge who oversaw the trials and sentences, Catherine C. Blake.


Justin Fenton is an investigative reporter for the Baltimore Banner. He previously spent 17 years at the Baltimore Sun, covering the criminal justice system. His book, "We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops and Corruption," was released by Random House in 2021 and became an HBO miniseries.

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