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Crime & Justiceby Fern Shen10:30 pmFeb 12, 20180

Hersl and Taylor found guilty in Baltimore police corruption case

Trial of “cops who were robbers” spurs a pledge of reform from Pugh and a proposal from a state delegate to disband the BPD altogether

Above: Former detectives Marcus Taylor and Daniel Hersl were found guilty in the Gun Trace Task Force case.

After an eight-day trial that featured shocking testimony about widespread corruption in the Baltimore Police Department, two officers were found guilty today of three of the main counts they faced.

Detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor, members of the once-lauded Gun Trace Task Force, were convicted of racketeering conspiracy, racketeering and Hobbs Act robbery.

They were acquitted of possession of a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence.

Speaking outside the courthouse after the verdict, acting U.S. Attorney Stephen Schenning described the acts the officers were convicted of – detaining and handcuffing innocent citizens, pocketing money from vulnerable people – as “awful.”

“Their business model was that the people they were robbing had no recourse. . . If  you rob drug dealers, they have no place to go,” he said, adding that in the end “the business model didn’t work.”

“The message from law enforcement is that we will investigate,” he said, flanked by prosecutors Leo Wise and Derek Hines.

Also addressing the media was Hersl’s distraught older brother, Steve.

“Danny was stone innocent,” the elder Hersl said, choking back sobs and lashing out at police brass that he said were the true wrongdoers. “Let’s talk about the corruption that starts at the top.”

Another man weeping outside the court was Alex Hilton.

Hilton said he was victimized by Hersl over the years and had come to watch the verdict.

“Now I feel free,” Hilton said. “I don’t have to watch police cars coming and run fast, worrying that’s him.”

Asked if he now felt “closure,” Hilton explained the moment he found it: “When they put the handcuffs on them.”

Fixing BPD. . .

Hersl, 47, and Taylor, 30 who both face a maximum 60 years in jail, were the only officers accused in the sweeping federal indictment to stand trial.

Six other former Task Forcec officers have already pleaded guilty. Four of them testified against Hersl and Taylor, as did several drug dealers who Hersl and Taylor robbed.

But today’s resolution of a case that acting Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa earlier described as “a few bad apples” will do little to dispel the cloud of corruption that hovers over the agency.

City residents hearing testimony about officers who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, guns and drugs and who resold prescription drugs looted from pharmacies during the rioting after the death of Freddie Gray were left with a devastating picture of their police force.

The trial “uncovered some of the most egregious and despicable acts ever perpetrated in law enforcement,” De Sousa acknowledged today in statement released after the verdict.

“I understand the doubt and the fear,” he added, pledging to earn the community’s trust in the agency and to go after “anyone who thinks they can tarnish the badge.”

Mayor Catherine Pugh also pledged today that her administration will be “relentless” in “closing this sordid chapter in policing culture.”

“The verdict rendered by jurors in this disturbing trial is clearly the right one, given the abundance of compelling and damning evidence against these former officers of the now-disbanded Gun Trace Task Force.

“I want all of our citizens to know that I have likewise been appalled by the level of the dishonesty and betrayal that these individuals, and others also implicated, perpetrated here in our community,” the mayor said in a statement.

De Sousa said he will create a special unit to investigate allegations made during the trial that didn’t directly involve the indicted officers.

Witnesses described wrongdoing by a dozen other police officers. And those officers testifying for the prosecution acknowledged committing crimes nearly a decade ago.

Asked today if other indictments are coming as a result of trial testimony, Schenning declined to comment.

. . . or Disbanding it?

But some voices are calling for more than departmental reforms.

Delegate Bilal Ali (D., 41st) is calling for the Baltimore Police Department to be disbanded, as happened to the Camden, N.J., police in 2013.

“It was a bold, nearly unprecedented decision, but it worked,” Ali said, noting that by the end of 2017, Camden had the lowest homicide rate in 30 years.

In a letter to Pugh and De Sousa, the delegate called on city leaders to “seriously evaluate Camden’s approach and begin consideration on whether to disband and reconstitute BPD from the ground up.”

“I am well aware of the enormity of this action and that its scale may give you reason to pause,” he wrote. “The problem we face is of a once in a lifetime magnitude though, and, as such, requires a solution of equal scope.”

Following the verdict, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby made this statement: “As my office continues to comb through the cases that were potentially impacted by the illegal acts of these former officers, I look forward to working with our federal, state and local partners in strengthening our system and bettering Baltimore.”

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