Court orders probation after gun charge dropped on Joe Johnson

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.