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09/20/18 6:00am

A $20 million federal lawsuit claiming that the Riverhead School District discriminated against an African-American elementary school teacher by firing him after he was arrested for driving while intoxicated in 2012 has been dismissed.

Joe Johnson II, who had been a tenured fourth-grade teacher at Phillips Avenue Elementary School, was arrested by Southampton Village police in April 2012 and initially charged with criminal possession of a weapon and DWI.  READ

01/13/15 12:00pm
01/13/2015 12:00 PM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO

The Riverhead school board is expected to vote tonight on an agreement to pay the legal fees for several past and present administrators and school board members in an upcoming federal case against the district, according to Tuesday’s meeting agenda.

(more…)

12/12/14 1:44pm
12/12/2014 1:44 PM
 Joe Johnson (top) leaves court in 2012 with a lawyer. (Credit: Tim Gannon, file)

Joe Johnson (top) leaves court in 2012 with a lawyer. (Credit: Tim Gannon, file)

A former Phillips Avenue teacher fired this year after pleading guilty to a drunken driving charge has filed a federal lawsuit against the Riverhead School District, its superintendent, school board and several administrators.

He claims he was fired because he is black. (more…)

09/05/14 11:00am
09/05/2014 11:00 AM
TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Joe Johnson (top) leaves court last year with a lawyer

Joe Johnson (top) leaving court in 2012. (Credit: Tim Gannon, file)

A tenured elementary school teacher sentenced to probation after pleading guilty to drunken driving charges is demanding the Riverhead School District reinstate him and claims he was fired last month over a weapons charge that had been dropped, according to a petition filed last Wednesday in Suffolk County Supreme Court.

(more…)

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.

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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.