Federal prosecutors are asking a judge not to release former Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force detective Daniel Hersl from prison early despite his cancer diagnosis, saying he’s shown no remorse for his crimes.

In opposing Hersl’s motion, prosecutors pointed to a form he filled out himself requesting that the warden of the prison where he is being held grant his release. Hersl wrote that he was “one of the highest decorated officer’s [sic] in BPD history.”

Hersl, 53, was perhaps referencing when he received the department’s Medal of Honor in 2012, for saving the life of a partner who had been shot. But his misdeeds have since far overshadowed that honor.

“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,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Phelps wrote. “The defendant has expressed no remorse, and he accepts no responsibility for his conduct. The Court should deny his motion.”

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He 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 co-defendants had minor histories of misconduct complaints, Hersl was one of the most notorious officers in the Baltimore Police Department.

Hersl 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.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake noted “the harm that’s done to what’s already a level of distrust between many in our community and the police is only deepened by these kinds of proven crimes.”

Hersl is being held at a U.S. medical center in Springfield, Missouri, and his court filing says 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 last month that he should be allowed to stay with family and receive care.

Prosecutors noted that Hersl has continued to deny the accusations after his conviction. At trial, his defense attorney told jurors, if money was taken, it was lawfully seized and he had stolen it from the Police Department, and thus had not committed robberies. Hersl claimed in a motion to vacate his conviction that he wasn’t aware his attorney was going to say that, and that it was false and he is innocent.

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He said he had suffered “guilt by association,” because he “unknowingly and involuntarily was assigned to a corrupt and dangerous internal police criminal conspiracy.”

Hersl first asked the warden for compassionate release in May after his cancer diagnosis. He was denied. The warden said he didn’t meet the medical criteria of having a debilitating condition that left him disabled or capable of only limited self-care.

Hersl asked again in August, 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.

He was denied again. The warden wrote that Hersl “greatly abused a position of public trust.”

“You have served only 36.5% of your imposed sentence,” the warden wrote to Hersl on Sept. 29. “Consideration of an early release would minimize the severity of your crime, which includes victims. At this point, you have no functional impairments and are still capable of physically re-offending.”

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Prosecutors said Hersl’s motion wrongly said he had been infraction free while incarcerated. Records show he has two infractions, from 2020 for refusing to obey an order and from 2022 for “disruptive conduct.”

They said, while Hersl met criteria for release, courts have denied requests to release terminally ill patients when the nature and circumstances of their offenses involved guns and violence. They said his post-sentencing conduct “indicates that he may still be a danger to the community.”

“He continues to deny any responsibility for his conduct. Instead, he blames the prosecutors, the FBI, the judiciary, and his attorney,” Phelps wrote. “This is not the kind of remorse or rehabilitation that would give the Court comfort that the defendant is not a danger.”


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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