2012 Top Story No. 4: Riverhead teacher arrested on gun charge

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

In April, a fourth-grade Riverhead teacher and basketball coach with a prior criminal conviction was arrested in Southampton after he was allegedly caught driving drunk with a loaded, illegal semi-automatic pistol in his car.

Joe Johnson, 38, of Southampton, who taught at Phillips Avenue School at the time, was stopped by a police officer April 21 in Southampton Village after he was seen driving a 2008 Mercedes Benz erratically, according to a criminal complaint.

Police found Mr. Johnson was intoxicated, and with a loaded, 13-round, high-capacity ammunition magazine inside the Springfield Armory XD semi-automatic .45-caliber pistol allegedly found in Mr. Johnson’s car, reports show.

He took a pre-screen breath test at the scene in the Southampton Village arrest, which indicated a blood alcohol level of .14, prosecutors said at his arraignment on a grand jury indictment in May, adding that he later refused a blood test at the police station.

The grand jury indictment included charges of second-, third- and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, driving while intoxicated, second-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and traffic infractions for crossing a yellow line, talking on a cell phone while driving, and driving on the road shoulder, according to court records.

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

Ten years earlier in Thomas County, Kansas, Mr. Johnson pleaded guilty to a criminal trespassing charge that was reduced from weapon possession and criminal possession of stolen property charges, according to prosecutors.

The original charges stemmed from Mr. Johnson’s being found in possession of a handgun that had been reported stolen. He was only convicted on the misdemeanor trespass charge, prosecutors said. Mr. Johnson pleaded not guilty to the charges, and was released after posting $15,000 cash bail. He was removed from the district payroll in October and is due back in Suffolk County court Jan. 10.