Riverhead teacher paid $83K since 2012 arrest

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10/04/2013 12:00 PM |
TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO  |  TIM GANNON PHOTO | Joe Johnson (top) leaving court in May with his former lawyer, John Ciarelli.

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | TIM GANNON PHOTO | Joe Johnson (top) leaving court in May with his former lawyer, John Ciarelli.

The Riverhead fourth-grade teacher arrested last year in Southampton Village on gun possession and drunken driving charges is back on the school district payroll.

Phillips Avenue Elementary School teacher Joe Johnson, 40, was arrested April 21, 2012, after a traffic stop. He’s been on leave at his home ever since, pending the outcome of the criminal case, officials have said.

Mr. Johnson was removed from the district payroll in September 2012 and Superintendent Nancy Carney said in an Oct. 10, 2012, News-Review report that he wouldn’t be paid again until Feb. 1, 2013. After a four-month suspension of pay, the district resumed issuing regular paychecks to Mr. Johnson on Feb. 1, according to payroll records obtained through a Freedom of Information request.

Since February, Mr. Johnson has received about $54,619 in total gross salary, those records show.

He’s received $83,040.35 worth of paychecks since his arrest.

Ms. Carney said in an interview last week that the district’s hands are tied and that it must continue paying Mr. Johnson until the case is resolved.

“We’re waiting for the courts to run through the process before we make a determination,” she said.

When asked what would happen if Mr. Johnson were convicted of a felony gun charge, Ms. Carney indicated that he would be terminated.

“Then it’s done,” she said. “It’s over.”

Anything less and the district would have to see what options it has, she said.

Mr. Johnson was arraigned on an 11-count Suffolk County grand jury indictment in May 2012, and faces felony charges including criminal possession of a weapon, driving while intoxicated, aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and traffic infractions. The top charge in the indictment, second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, is a Class C violent felony punishable by up to 15 years in jail.

After his arrest, Southampton Village police said Mr. Johnson was driving drunk and had an illegal loaded semi-automatic pistol in his car. He pleaded not guilty in county court and has been out on $15,000 bail. He’s due back in court Oct. 17.

Mr. Johnson had been scheduled for a Sept. 25 court appearance, but Judge John Iliou adjourned the case when he and his lawyer didn’t appear.

Initially, his lawyer was Riverhead attorney John Ciarelli but Mr. Johnson later hired William Keahon of Hauppauge to represent him. Mr. Keahon didn’t return several phone calls seeking comment for this report, including a request made in person at his office by a reporter. Mr. Johnson could not be located for comment.

In a Feb. 1 report on news website Patch.com, Mr. Johnson told a reporter he hoped to be “completely exonerated of all charges.”

Mr. Johnson, who was hired in 2000, also said he wanted to get back into the classroom.

“It’s in my blood,” he said of teaching.

“I can’t wait to tell everyone what really happened that night,” he told Patch.com. “There is something seriously wrong with this case and I can’t wait for it to come to light.”

Active in the schools, Mr. Johnson also coached the Riverhead boys’ junior varsity basketball team.

Last week, Ms. Carney expressed frustration with how long it’s been taking to resolve the matter in court. In the meantime, she said, the district has no choice under law but to keep paying Mr. Johnson.

As for the four-month suspension in pay, Ms. Carney first told the News-Review last week that she would look into how the arrangement was reached, but later declined comment.

“We cannot discuss personnel matters,” she wrote in an email Tuesday.

Lisa Goulding, president of the Riverhead Central Faculty Association, the union that represents district teachers, said in a statement about the pay suspension agreement: “It’s a private employment matter that was negotiated between he and the district with their respective counsel.”

In 2006, Mr. Johnson pleaded guilty to a driving while ability impaired charge in Riverhead Town, assistant district attorney Stacy Skorupa said at his arraignment in May, adding that he had also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal charges stemming from separate incidents in Thomas County, Kan., in 1996.

jennifer@timesreview.com

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