Riverhead teacher nabbed on gun charges now off payroll

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.