Joseph Fischer, the North Cornwall Township police officer arrested and charged in connection with the Jan. 6 violent invasion of the United States Capitol, was released from Dauphin County Prison on Feb. 23.
Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Schwab released Fischer pending trial, after a detention hearing in Harrisburg on the federal criminal charges, according to PennLive. Cash bail is not used in federal criminal cases, but Judge Schwab conditioned Fischer’s release on not possessing firearms or using social media.
The PennLive report also referred to testimony at the hearing by federal agents that Fischer became angry and confrontational when they came to his house to arrest him.
While he was represented at the detention hearing in Harrisburg by local Assistant Federal Public Defender Lori Ulrich, it is not clear who will be representing Fischer in future proceedings and at trial.
Fischer, who has been on the North Cornwall Township police force since 2002, has been suspended without pay, and faces a trial in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
A township news release said that “[n]o Township official had any knowledge of this individual’s actions prior to his arrest.”
Township Manager Thomas Long confirmed that the township’s police officers are members of the North Cornwall Township Police Association. When asked whether the township’s collective bargaining agreement with the association would require going through a set disciplinary procedure and bar an immediate firing, Long had no comment.
Long also declined to comment on whether the charges against Fischer would be discussed at the upcoming Board of Supervisors meeting on March 2 at 7 p.m. At the time of publication, no meeting agenda had been posted.
Fischer has been charged by the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia with:
- Obstruction of Law Enforcement During Civil Disorder, which carries a maximum possible jail sentence of five years.
- Knowingly Entering or Remaining in any Restricted Building or Grounds Without Lawful Authority, which carries a maximum possible jail sentence of one year. The sentence could be increased to 10 years if “the offense results in significant bodily injury” as defined by federal criminal law. The U.S. Attorney has not said if he would seek an enhanced jail sentence.
- Violent Entry and Disorderly Conduct on Capitol Grounds, which carries a maximum possible jail sentence of six months.
- Obstruction of Justice/Congress, which carries a maximum possible jail sentence of 20 years.
The maximum possible jail sentences will not necessarily be imposed if Fischer is convicted. Federal defendants frequently receive less than maximum sentences, especially if they have no prior criminal record, based on federal sentencing guidelines.
As in all criminal prosecutions, state or federal, Fischer is presumed innocent, and the government will have to prove all charges at trial, beyond a reasonable doubt, to obtain a conviction.
In a related development, according to a news release issued on Feb. 22, “[f]ollowing the arrest of suspended police officer Joe Fischer North Cornwall Township initiated its own inquiry into the events surrounding Officer Fischer’s actions” . . . and “[d]uring the pendency of that inquiry . . . [Police] Chief John Leahy has been temporarily placed on administrative leave with pay.” No further information has been released at this time.
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An earlier version of this headline referred to Joseph Fischer as ‘fired’ instead of ‘suspended.’ LebTown sincerely regrets this error.