Riverhead teacher Joe Johnson avoids gun charges; guilty of DWI

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.