Gun Trace Task Force members Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor have been found guilty on a number of charges tied to racketeering, conspiracy, and fraud.
The jury of eight white women, three black men, and one Asian woman took about two days—Feb. 8 and Feb. 12—to deliberate before delivering a verdict that declared Hersl and Taylor guilty on most counts. The jury acquit both on gun charges.
As the verdict was being read, Taylor seemed mostly unaffected, quiet. Hersl grew red, rubbing his head with his hands on his forehead. His family broke once they put handcuffs on Hersl.
Stephen Hersl, one of Hersl’s brothers, appeared wrecked. “I love you Danny,” he cried. Taylor’s family moved out of courthouse without comment.
Hersl and Taylor were the only two members of the Baltimore Police Department’s federally-indicted gun unit not to plead guilty, and their trial, which began three weeks ago, revealed numerous shocking tactics used by Baltimore Police officers to enrich themselves, including the illegal seizure of money, drugs, and guns—often keeping some or all of those drugs and money (and in one case reselling a gun)—along with extensive overtime fraud.
“I can go on with my own life without having to worry about and being in fear of someobody who’s supposed to protect me,” said Alex Hilton, a man who came to watch the verdict. Hilton says he was repeatedly harassed by Hersl in the 2000s so much so that he moved to West Baltimore to avoid him.
The trial also implicated a dozen or so other police officers, former and current, including Dep. Commissioner Dean Palmere, who announced his retirement hours after GTTF’s Momodu Gondo testified that Palmere helped cover up a 2009 police shooting (Palmere denies this); and slain detective Sean Suiter, who was killed one day before he was set to testify to a grand jury about a 2010 event involving GTTF’s Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, Ryan Guinn, and an unnamed sergeant who planted heroin in a car—until Gondo’s testimony, which said Suiter stole money with him as early as 2009. The department held a hero’s funeral for the murdered detective.
Hersl’s lawyer William Purpura argued that while Hersl had indeed committed overtime fraud and stolen money from civilians, he was not guilty of robbery (theft by force). Instead, according to Purpura, Hersl seized the money and drugs legally, as a police officer. His only illegal act was failing to turn them in.
But according to plenty of testimony, Hersl was more than aware of plans to rob citizens, and was complicit in the planning and execution of these robberies. As for Taylor, his lawyers Christopher Nieto and Jennifer Wicks argued Taylor’s innocence and mostly said that the witnesses, both police and citizens—most of them current or former drug dealers—could not be believed. She accused the prosecution of going to the “depths of the criminal underworld” to find its witnesses.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise countered that it was Hersl and Taylor who had chosen to commit crimes with the former detectives who had testified and the generally vulnerable people they had victimized.
“What these men hoped as they committed these crimes,” Wise said. “Is that someday, if they were ever called to account for these actions that they could hide behind lawyers like Ms. Wicks, Mr. Nieto, and Mr. Purpura,” who would demonize their accusers.
Wise said they had indeed descended into the “depths of the criminal underworld.”
“And what we found in those depths were Daniel Thomas Hersl and Marcus Roosevelt Taylor,” he said.
The FBI is still looking into that underworld. Its investigation into the Baltimore Police Department is ongoing.
Coverage of the Gun Trace Task Force trial is a collaboration between the Baltimore Beat and the Real News Network. Visit therealnews.com for more independent local, national, and international journalism that examines the underlying causes of chronic problems and searches for effective solutions.