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Cops: Teacher indicted on DWI, weapons charges

Joe Johnson, a fourth-grade teacher who was arrested

Joe Johnson, a fourth-grade teacher who was arrested in Southampton for driving drunk and having a loaded semi-automatic handgun in his car, walks out of Riverhead Criminal Court after posting bail. (May 18, 2012) Credit: James Carbone

A Riverhead elementary schoolteacher has been indicted on charges of driving while intoxicated with an illegal handgun in his car.

Joe Johnson, 38, of Southampton, pleaded not guilty Friday to an 11-count indictment charging him with second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, driving while intoxicated and other charges. He declined to comment as he walked out of Suffolk County Court after posting bail of $15,000 set by Judge James F.X. Doyle.

Assistant District Attorney Stacy Skorupa said a Southampton village police officer pulled over Johnson -- who teaches fourth grade at the Phillips Avenue Elementary School -- after seeing him drive erratically and talking on a cellphone at 3 a.m. on April 21. A preliminary breath test showed blood-alcohol content of 0.14 percent, over the legal limit of .08 percent.

While he was outside his car, Skorupa said, the female officer believed Johnson, who coached Riverhead High School's junior varsity basketball team, was staring her down, so she called for backup. Skorupa said Johnson had been fumbling with the glove box; inside it, officers found a loaded .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun.

In a statement released through its public relations agency, the Riverhead Central School District said it "is monitoring the matter" and will cooperate with authorities. The statement said Johnson was removed from the classroom and "administratively reassigned to his home, immediately after his arrest."Skorupa said in 1996, Johnson had been arrested and charged with passing a bad check and possession of a stolen gun. He ultimately pleaded guilty to criminal trespass, she said.The school district's statement said Johnson was fingerprinted and "cleared by New York State" before he was hired.The district declined to respond to questions about whether it was aware of his criminal record.Johnson's license has been suspended five times, Skorupa said, and he is charged with driving without one.

Defense attorney John Ciarelli minimized the arrest in Kansas, when he was in college.

"Life has changed a lot for him since he was a college student," he said. "We're ready to defend this case."

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