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4th Grade Teacher Charged with DWI, Loaded Gun, Not Back This Year

Joe Johnson is due back in court on August 28

When the bell rings at Riverhead's Phillips Avenue Elementary School on the first day of school, fourth grade teacher Joe Johnson won't be in his classroom.

Johnson, with driving while intoxicated with a loaded handgun in his car, remains on special assignment through the end of the school year, said Riverhead Board of Education president Ann Cotton-DeGrasse on Friday.

"He will not be in the classroom," she said.

The board voted at a meeting in recent months to appoint a replacement fourth grade teacher to Johnson's class for the entire 2012-2013 school year, DeGrasse said.

Johnson pleaded not guilty to 11 charges in Suffolk County Court in May; according to court documents, Johnson, who is represented by Riverhead attorney John Ciarelli, is due back in court on August 28 before Judge James F.X. Doyle.

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

The indictment said that Johnson was accused by the grand jury of Suffok 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.

Johnson was and found not only allegedly to be driving drunk with a suspended license — but also unlawfully in possession of a loaded handgun, according to police. 

Johnson had a .45 caliber semiautomatic pistol, police said.

Riverhead School District Superintendent Nancy Carney confirmed that Johnson is an employee of the district, who was working as a fourth grade teacher at the Phillips Avenue Elementary School, Carney said.

"The Riverhead Central School District is monitoring the matter and will, of course, cooperate with the Southampton Village Police Department," Carney said in an email in May. "Mr. Johnson was administratively reassigned to his home, immediately after his arrest. The district will monitor the court proceedings and take appropriate action concerning this matter."

Carney added that the district is committed to hiring individuals who are "professionally and ethically fit to work with our children." In accordance with the SAVE act, Mr. Johnson was fingerprinted and cleared by New York State, she said.

highhatsize August 12, 2012 at 04:43 PM
This case is puzzling. The reported facts are that the perp was pulled over for texting and DWI and found to be in possession of a loaded handgun. On those facts, the grand jury levied 11 counts, one of them being "an armed violent felony." That seems overkill to me. This is the case of a drunk who drove negligently and was pulled over for it, just as scores of drunks are every day on eastern Long Island. One would think from the charges that he opened fire on the cops and shouted, "You'll never take me alive, pigs." I would expect that all of the felony counts will be dismissed when this is plea bargained . But why did the cops/grand jury pile on so in this particular case? Also, I don't think that the mere possession of a handgun indicates evil intent. A gun is the most effective self-defense weapon available. The question must be asked, "WHY was he carrying it?" Another pertinent question is , "How good a fourth grade teacher is he?" If he is a good teacher, I don't think that this incident alone should be grounds for dismissal. If there are no other indications of anti-social character, and if he IS a good teacher, I would be happy to put my child in his charge. This relatively minor mistake has been painted in far too vivid colors.
Cymbaltone August 12, 2012 at 06:24 PM
Yeah. You are probably right. Driving with no license and a loaded 45 hand gun at 330 am is probably nothing.
oh yeah August 12, 2012 at 06:44 PM
This way more than a "minor mistake". He was on his way to "take care of a problem"..........
highhatsize August 12, 2012 at 09:21 PM
Another discrepancy. Johnson was NOT charged with felony DWI so his license suspension was NOT due to a prior DWI charge. Why had his license been suspended? I'm not suggesting anything underhanded. I just think that this is another puzzling fact.
Jaguar-Guy August 16, 2012 at 09:01 PM
How are you puzzled by this, and NOT puzzled by Bishop and Semler. You're just a schill on that. Must be convenient for you to have your own personal "sliding scale" of ethics code HighHat - again, very surprised at you !! You have more questions for a guy with a pistol in his car who is charged and is pleading it out that you do our Congressman being paid-off.

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