01/08/14 1:38pm
01/08/2014 1:38 PM
TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Joe Johnson (top) leaves court last year with a lawyer

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Joe Johnson (top) leaves court last year with a lawyer

A Riverhead School District elementary school teacher was sentenced to three years probation and had his license suspended for six months on Wednesday, nearly two months after pleading down from a gun charge that stemmed from an incident in April of 2012.

Joe Johnson, a fourth grade teacher at Philips Avenue Elementary, was pulled over in Southampton Village nearly two years ago and after police reported that they caught him driving drunk with a loaded gun in the car, was “reassigned” to his home, pending the outcome of the case.

On Wednesday, Suffolk County Criminal Court Judge James Hudson said that the probationary period will have alcohol and narcotics conditions, “to ensure [his] probation is a success.” In addition, he will have to pay the court a surcharge and install an interlock device on his car.

Mr. Johnson pleaded guilty to DWI in November, as the felony weapons charge was unable to be withheld following what prosecutors called an illegal police search.

Mr. Johnson’s attorney, Hauppauge-based William Keahon, said that the end result of the court proceedings vindicated his client.

“My position from day one has been that he never had a gun,” Mr. Keahon said. “It took this long a time to convince the DA about that, so I’m very happy for him.”

While Mr. Johnson’s case went through court proceedings, he has continued to be paid — save for a four-month span from October 2012 through January 2013. He had previously been charged with DWI, eventually pleading down to a charge of driving while ability impaired in 2006.

Riverhead superintendent Nancy Carney stated previously that should Mr. Johnson be convicted of the felony gun charge, he would have been fired. And following the announcement of the plea deal in November, Ms. Carney had stated that the district was still weighing its options.

That appears to still be the case.

“A process, separate and distinct from the criminal court proceedings, has been initiated by the District against Mr. Johnson,” Ms. Carney said via email on Wednesday. “Mr. Johnson will remain on administrative reassignment pending the outcome of the administrative proceedings.”

Active in the schools, Mr. Johnson has taught in the Riverhead School District since 2000, most recently teaching fourth grade at the Phillips Avenue Elementary School, and has been a high school basketball coach. He also led the annual “Say No to Drugs” march in 2006.

Mr. Johnson’s case wouldn’t be the first in recent memory of a school employee having legal problems behind the wheel.

Former high school principal David Zimbler was arrested in June of 2008 on a DWI charge. He later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of driving while ability impaired. The Riverhead Board of Education delayed his tenure by a year in the wake of the arrest, and required Mr. Zimbler to complete an employee assistance program and in community service at the time. Mr. Zimbler, a Commack resident, later left the district in 2011 to work in Westbury.

Paul Squire contributed to this article.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the length of Mr. Johnson’s sentence. He was sentenced to three years probation, not three months.

11/14/13 1:01pm
11/14/2013 1:01 PM

JOE JOHNSON

A day after gun charges were dropped against Riverhead teacher Joe Johnson, Riverhead School District superintendent Nancy Carney said the district is weighing its options on what to do with its employee.

In the meantime, Mr. Johnson — who has pleaded guilty to DWI — will remain on leave, Ms. Carney said.

Mr. Johnson, 40, a fourth-grade teacher at Phillips Avenue Elementary School, was arrested by Southampton Village police about 3:30 a.m. on April 21, 2012 and was charged with drunken driving and gun charges.

“During the pendency of these considerations, Mr. Johnson will remain administratively reassigned away from his teacher duties and school campuses,” Mrs. Carney said in a media statement issued about 12:30 p.m. Thursday.

He’s been “reassigned” to his home since April 2012 pending the outcome of the criminal case, school officials have said.

During that time, he has continued to be paid — save for a four-month span from October 2012 through January, the News-Review has reported.

“During the pendency of the criminal charges, the district has withheld administrative proceedings regarding Mr. Johnson’s continued employment with the district,” Ms. Carney said Thursday.

“The board will now promptly undertake consideration [of] its options.”

Prosecutors said Wednesday night that Mr. Johnson was able to side step the gun charges over questions regarding the legality of the police search that resulted in the finding of a loaded handgun in the car, according to District Attorney Thomas Spota’s office.

Southampton Village Police Chief Thomas Cummings was not immediately available for comment.

Mr. Spota’s office said criminal court Judge James Hudson agreed with prosecutors’ assessment of the search, which resulted in the discovery of the handgun, prosecutors said.

“After a review of the facts and circumstances of the arrest, and an analysis of applicable law relating to the police officer’s post-arrest search of the car and consequential discovery of the gun, the district attorney’s office determined it could not sustain the burden of proof necessary to establish the legality of the search,” read a DA press release issued Wednesday night.

Mr. Johnson was indicted by a grand jury in May 2012 and was facing multiple gun charges.

The top charge was second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, a Class C violent felony punishable by up to 15 years in jail.

In 2006, Mr. Johnson pleaded guilty to a driving while ability impaired charge in Riverhead Town, which was pleaded down from DWI.

Mr. Johnson is due to be sentenced on the DWI conviction on Jan. 8.

mwhite@timesreview.com

11/13/13 10:40pm
11/13/2013 10:40 PM
TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Joe Johnson (top) leaves court last year with a lawyer

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Joe Johnson (top) leaves court last year with a lawyer

The Riverhead elementary school teacher arrested last year on weapons and other charges after a traffic stop in Southampton has side-stepped the gun charges, pleading guilty only to driving while intoxicated — an outcome prosecutors blamed on an illegal police search.

Joe Johnson, 40, a fourth-grade teacher at Phillips Avenue Elementary School, was arrested by Southampton Village police about 3:30 a.m. on April 21, 2012. He’s been on leave at his home ever since, pending the outcome of the criminal case, Riverhead School District officials have said.

Judge James Hudson agreed with prosecutors’ assessment of the search, which resulted in the discovery of the handgun, prosecutors said.

“After a review of the facts and circumstances of the arrest, and an analysis of applicable law relating to the police officer’s post-arrest search of the car and consequential discovery of the gun, the district attorney’s office determined it could not sustain the burden of proof necessary to establish the legality of the search,” reads a press release issued about 10:30 p.m. by Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota’s office.

Mr. Johnson, who had also been a high school basketball coach prior to his arrest, was facing multiple gun charges after police had caught him driving drunk, allegedly with an illegal loaded semi-automatic pistol in his car.

He was indicted by a grand jury in May 2012.

The top charge Mr. Johnson faced was second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, a Class C violent felony punishable by up to 15 years in jail.

Mr. Johnson is due to be sentenced on the DWI charge on Jan. 8.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that town police arrested Joe Johnson in April 2012. 

Southampton Village police made the arrest.

10/04/13 12:00pm
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

02/01/13 12:00pm
02/01/2013 12:00 PM
TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO  |  TIM GANNON PHOTO | Joe Johnson (top) leaves court in May with his lawyer John Ciarelli.

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

A fourth-grade Riverhead teacher who was arraigned on an 11-count grand jury indictment in May on charges that included criminal possession of a weapon and driving while intoxicated said he hopes to be exonerated of all charges.

In an interview with Riverhead Patch, Joe Johnson of Southampton said he is looking forward to his turn in court.

“A lot of what has been printed just isn’t true — has never been the case,” Mr. Johnson said in the interview.

Previous Coverage:

Oct. 10: Riverhead teacher nabbed on gun charges now off payroll

May 18: Grand jury indicts Riverhead teacher on gun charges

April 28: Teacher arrested in Southampton had high-capacity magazine in gun

10/10/12 3:00pm

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

The Phillips Avenue fourth-grade teacher who’s facing weapons and drunken driving charges has been removed from the district’s payroll, school officials said.

Joe Johnson was taken off the payroll through Feb. 1, 2013, said Riverhead superintendent Nancy Carney.

Mr. Johnson, who had been a high school basketball coach prior to his arrest and was the keynote speaker at the annual “Say No to Drugs” march in 2006, faces multiple gun charges after police allegedly caught him driving drunk in Southampton in April with an illegal loaded semi-automatic pistol in his car.

The top charge Mr. Johnson faces is a Class C violent felony punishable by up to 15 years in jail, authorities said.

He was indicted by a grand jury in May on criminal possession of a weapon and driving while intoxicated charges and pleaded not guilty.

In 2006, Mr. Johnson pleaded guilty to a driving while ability impaired charge in Riverhead Town, which was pleaded down from DWI.

“The district will continue to monitor the proceedings involving Mr. Johnson in Suffolk County Court and will take appropriate action upon the conclusion of the matter in criminal court,” Ms. Carney said.

She could not provide additional details about Mr. Johnson’s case.

In July, the school board approved the hiring of a substitute teacher to replace Mr. Johnson, who was reassigned to his home after the arrest.