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Gun Charge Dropped, Riverhead Teacher Gets Probation; Still On Administrative Leave

The teacher's driver's license was revoked for six months.

A fourth grade teacher in the Riverhead school district remains on administrative leave this week after he received probation in a highly publicized case regarding a DWI arrest and alleged gun charge, which was later dropped.

This week, Joe Johnson received three years probation, and will have his driver's license revoked for six months, according to court records.

The Riverhead school district has still not decided what Johnson's future holds in the classroom.

"A process, separate and distinct from the criminal court proceedings, has been initiated by the District against Mr. Johnson," Riverhead Superintendent Nancy Carney said Friday. "Mr. Johnson will remain on administrative reassignment pending the outcome of the administrative proceedings."

Johnson pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor driving while intoxicated charge in November — and a more serious charge involving a loaded gun was dropped.

Johnson was originally arrested in Southampton Village in 2012.

“The Board of Education is aware of the disposition of criminal charges against one of its teachers, Joe Johnson," Carney said in November. "During the pendency of the criminal charges, the district has withheld administrative proceedings regarding Mr. Johnson’s continued employment with the district. The board will now promptly undertake consideration its options. During the pendency of these considerations, Mr. Johnson will remain administratively reassigned away from his teacher duties and school campuses.”

Johnson pleaded guilty  in Suffolk County Court to misdemeanor drunken driving, according to Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota.

Johnson was arrested by Southampton Village police at approximately 3:30 a.m. on April 21, 2012, on Hill Street in Southampton and charged with driving while intoxicated and criminal possession of a loaded gun, police said.

After his arrest, during an inventory of the car's contents, police found and seized a loaded .45 caliber pistol from the glove compartment of the car Johnson was driving, Spota said. 

According to Spota, 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. 

Suffolk County Judge James Hudson, presiding at the court conference, said he agreed with the DA’s office assessment of the legality of the police search of the defendant’s vehicle which resulted in the discovery of the firearm. 

Johnson, who taught at the Phillips Avenue Elementary School, was sentenced on Jan. 8.

Johnson's attorney, Hauppauge-based William Keahon, said in March that he believed his client would be found innocent on all charges.

"He's an outstanding member of the community, a terrific educator, and is well-respected in the school district and community in which he lives," he said.

Speaking publicly to Patch for the first time since his April 21, 2012 arrest, Johnson said he wanted to set the record straight.

"A lot of what has been printed just isn't true — has never been the case," Johnson said. "All that transpired that night and since then, there are things that are wrong on every level. I'm waiting to have my turn in court so that everything can be brought to light and people can realize that this isn't all what it appears to be."

According to Bob Clifford, spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, Johnson, of Southampton, pleaded not guilty to 11 charges in a grand jury indictment.

The indictment said that Johnson was accused by the grand jury of Suffolk County with criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, "an armed violent felony," as well as one felony count of criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, and one misdemeanor charge of criminal possession of a weapon; one count of driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor, one count of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, a misdemeanor.

Johnson was also charged with unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, failure to maintain lane, failure to keep right, driving on the shoulder, operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile phone, and failure to comply with a lawful order, all traffic infractions.

But Johnson said much of what has been said has been completely misrepresented. "There is something very wrong with this case," he said.

Johnson said he had a DMV hearing in the summer of 2012 and his license was returned. "They didn't find enough evidence," he said. "That's one good sign."

Without being able to discuss specifics, Johnson alluded to the fact that "damaging information" exists about an individual "with an ax to grind" that will help his case and restore justice.

When asked about the gun charge, Johnson said that while he is not able to discuss the details of the case, "It is not what it appears to be. It is a complete misunderstanding."

Johnson is hoping that as details emerge, truth will be revealed. "I'm just hoping in the days to come that, with my new lawyer, things will start to look better. My life has been upended completely," Johnson said. "It's been turned upside down. And I've just been sitting on the sidelines, just watching it happen, not having the power to stop it."

Johnson, married and the father of two small children, said at the time perhaps the most painful part had been having to stop teaching. 

"I miss it terribly," he said. "I've done it for 13 years — and I'm not losing my passion for teaching in any way, shape or form." Johnson said he has wanted to teach ever since he was 24 years old.

The teacher has not been back in the classroom since his arrest; he was initially placed on special assignment by the Riverhead Central School District and was later removed from the payroll.

Johnson said he hopes his students past and present realize the true nature of his character. "If anyone knows me, and knows my passion for teaching and the community, it's the children that I work with."


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