Teacher gave drinks parties for teenagers, police charge
Tisbury police went to the Mariner Road home of Daniel K. Johnson Tuesday evening, armed with a search warrant and information that the West Tisbury School industrial arts teacher provided alcohol to students and hosted parties where young people drank.
Police arrested Mr. Johnson, 43, and removed computer material from his house. Mr. Johnson was released from jail later that night after he provided bail of $1,500.
Mr. Johnson appeared Wednesday before Judge H. Gregory Williams in Edgartown District Court to be arraigned on five counts of furnishing alcohol to minors, one count of assault and battery and two counts of disseminating obscene material to minors.
Cape and Islands assistant district attorney Laura Marshard told the court that the charges involved at least five individuals.
Photo by Steve Myrick
Ms. Marshard said Mr. Johnson continually and repeatedly supplied pornographic material to young people ages 16 and 17. "Many of them are former students," she said.
Describing the charges as extremely serious in nature, "particularly in light of his position of authority and trust," Ms. Marshard told Judge Williams the Commonwealth wanted bail set in the amount of $10,000.
Attorney Charles Morano, who represented Mr. Johnson, said Mr. Johnson denied all of the charges against him. "There is a very large discrepancy with regard to the facts," Mr. Morano said.
Judge Williams set bail at $5,000 and told Mr. Johnson he was not to have any contact with the victims or any unsupervised contact with people under the age of 18.
Yesterday afternoon Mr. Johnson was released on bail.
Mr. Johnson began teaching at the West Tisbury School in 2001 and has lived on Martha's Vineyard for 10 years.
Contacted yesterday morning by The Martha's Vineyard Times, superintendent of schools James Weiss said he learned of the arrest Tuesday evening in a telephone call from West Tisbury School principal Michael Halt, who received a call from police.
"At this point, I am aware of the charges, and we will take appropriate administrative action to ensure the safety of our school and our kids," Mr. Weiss said.
Mr. Weiss said he planned to meet with Mr. Johnson and place the teacher on paid administrative leave.
Asked if he had any inkling of possible misbehavior by Mr. Johnson prior to the arrest, Mr. Weiss said that last week he heard rumors within the community of Mr. Johnson's possible activities with regard to alcohol and youngsters.
"I don't like to hear things like that," said Mr. Weiss. He and school officials met on Monday with Mr. Johnson and his union representative. "We gave him an opportunity to describe his activities, and he denied everything," said Mr. Weiss.
The arrest of Mr. Johnson Tuesday follows the sudden departure last month of a coach and driver's education instructor and the abrupt departure last spring of a music teacher following a criminal investigation into charges of sexual misconduct with a student.
Mr. Weiss said the latest incident to roil the school district causes him great concern. "I do not know how I can get the message across to people, both in the school and outside the school that this is unacceptable behavior," he said. "We need to do whatever we can to get people back on track and make sure they know what are appropriate boundaries."
Mr. Weiss described the recent series of events collectively as an appalling breach of the public's and the school's trust that can only erode public confidence. He said it is obvious that despite past efforts, more must be done to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future, and that he planned to meet with union officials representing school employees yesterday to speak about that topic.
In addition to his work at the school, Mr. Johnson is also an EMT with the Tri-Town Ambulance Service. He is the squad representative on the Tri-Town Ambulance Committee and in 2007 was named EMT of the year.
Chilmark Police Chief Tim Rich, who also serves as chairman of the Tri-Town Ambulance Committee, told The Martha's Vineyard Times yesterday that Tri-Town policy is that when an emergency services staff member is arrested, he or she is placed on administrative leave until the conclusion of the criminal case. "And that's happened," said Chief Rich.
According to a nine-page police report provided by Tisbury Police, but with the names of the young people with whom Mr. Johnson reportedly interacted removed, the investigation began on December 1, when a West Tisbury parent went to the Tisbury police station and told officer Dan Hanavan that he had suspected for some time that an adult was providing his son with alcohol.
He relayed to the officer that last winter he caught his son with a bottle of vodka. With the assistance of the store where the bottle was purchased, he determined that Mr. Johnson was the purchaser.
The parent spoke to Mr. Johnson, who said the boy, a former West Tisbury School student now in high school, took the bottle from his truck. But the parent told Mr. Hanavan he was still concerned that his son "was getting alcohol from somewhere."
The report describes similar concerns from another parent and an encounter with Mr. Johnson in November. In that case, Mr. Johnson was driving the woman's child home.
In the report, Mr. Hanavan describes a conversation with Mr. Johnson on December 1. Regarding the complaints. Mr. Johnson told Mr. Hanavan that the student did not get along with his parents and that he, the teacher, was available to talk. He said the student sometimes slept over on his couch.
Subsequent interviews with parents and students who came in contact with Mr. Johnson paint a picture of an adult who willingly provided alcohol and a place to hang out to male students, and on occasion showed pornographic films and offered to provide sexual favors. Police continue to investigate reports describing Mr. Johnson's behavior.
According to one interview, an unidentified student told officer Hanavan he first received alcohol from Mr. Johnson the summer after he completed the eighth grade, and needed only to call Mr. Johnson.
"Student told me he would first call on Johnson's cell phone to let him know he was on his way," said the report. "Student would leave his bicycle at the Charter School and walk on the path to the West Tisbury Fire Dept and knock on the side door. Johnson would open the door, money would be exchanged, and Johnson would give him the vodka bottle. Student stated this happened twice during the summer."
According to the report, one teen said he spent almost every weekend in October and November at Mr. Johnson's house. The teen said, "Johnson has a beer pong table he built in the basement for drinking games. Approximately 10 to 15 teenagers hang out, listen to music and drink. Some people bring their own alcohol, but other people pitch in money, and Johnson goes alone to the package store to buy alcohol."
On one occasion a student said he was going to meet a friend at the Steamship Authority. He alleged that Mr. Johnson slammed him against the wall because he was upset that he might be spotted drunk by the police while walking to the boat terminal.
Following Mr. Johnson's arraignment Wednesday, assistant district attorney Marshard told The Martha's Vineyard Times, "This type of behavior is of great concern, and the victims are particularly vulnerable, given their ages and the position of trust."
"The Tisbury police in conjunction with the State Police are investigating it fully. I have been impressed: they are doing everything they conceivably can."
Tisbury police Chief John Cashin said police continue to investigate the material seized from Mr. Johnson's house, including computer records. He said more charges in connection with the case remain a possibility.
Mr. Cashin praised the work of Officer Hanavan in following up on the first parent's complaint and subsequent allegations. He said the fact that police were able to obtain a search warrant reflects the quality of the police work involved.
"It is a very, very disturbing case, obviously," said Chief Cashin. "And I am sure it is going to raise some tempers and some eyebrows throughout Martha's Vineyard, especially with the parents and this individual's co-workers. It is just not a good situation. It is very unfortunate."
Mr. Johnson did not respond to a request for comment left on his telephone answering machine yesterday afternoon. His attorney Charles Morano did not respond to a similar request.