Former teacher guilty - served kids booze, porn
Following a two-day trial, Edgartown District Court Associate Justice Joseph I. Macy found Daniel K. Johnson, 43, a former West Tisbury School teacher and emergency medical technician, guilty Tuesday on 10 of 13 charges, including assault and battery, providing alcohol to minors, and providing obscene material to minors.
"Given the number and type of crimes," Judge Macy said in comments after he pronounced the verdicts, "the question of sentencing is not going to be whether there is incarceration, but how long."
Mr. Johnson asked to have Judge Macy alone hear the case and decide it, rather than have the case heard by a jury. Following the verdicts, Judge Macy revoked Mr. Johnson's bail. He was taken into custody in the courtroom and transported to the Dukes County Jail, where he will await sentencing on January 22.
The case began on the night of December 9, 2008. Tisbury police went to the unmarried Mr. Johnson's Mariner Road home 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.
Mr. Johnson was arraigned the next day on five counts of furnishing alcohol to minors, one count of assault and battery, and two counts of disseminating obscene material to minors. More charges were added later.
Twelve teenage witnesses
In court, Cape and Islands assistant district attorney Laura Marshard established, with the testimony of 12 teenage witnesses, including many of his former students, that Mr. Johnson's home was a place where teenagers could drink alcohol, play drinking games, and sometimes watch pornographic movies.
Mr. Johnson, who took the stand in his own defense, admitted he provided alcohol to one teenager. But he denied under oath that he ever supplied alcohol or obscene materials to other teens, or assaulted anyone. His attorney said Mr. Johnson was guilty of bad judgment, but nothing else.
A key point in the trial came when a West Tisbury teenager and former student took the witness stand. Defense attorney Paul Andrews asked the boy whether he hung out at Mr. Johnson's home because it was safer than his own home.
"I wouldn't say it was a safer place," said the teenager. "It was a safer place to drink."
In opening statements, the prosecution and the defense outlined their cases for Judge Macy, who was the sole fact finder in the case. Judge Macy explained the rights Mr. Johnson was giving up by deciding to have the judge, instead of a jury, hear the case. "I alone will decide whether you are guilty or not guilty based on the evidence," Judge Macy said directly to Mr. Johnson.
In her opening statement, Ms. Marshard told the court she would prove that Mr. Johnson provided beer and liquor, or access to it, for many 15- and 16-year-old Island teenagers. She said he provided access to pornographic DVDs and sometimes watched them with the teenagers. She also said she would prove that Mr. Johnson assaulted one teenager as he tried to prevent the teen from leaving his home. She said many of the witnesses were boys he taught as a shop teacher in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades at the West Tisbury School. "That's how, the evidence will show, he knew the majority of these witnesses," Ms. Marshard said. "He renewed a relationship with them when they were 15 or 16."
The defense painted a very different picture. "This is a fairly well orchestrated campaign by some troubled teenagers," attorney Paul Andrews said. "They were looking for a scapegoat. They found Mr. Johnson. These are overblown and apparently orchestrated charges."
Ms. Marshard called two men who were tenants in Mr. Johnson's home to the witness stand. One of them described in detail an occasion when Mr. Johnson went out to a package store at the request of a West Tisbury teenager, who was 16 at the time. "I seen him come into the house and hand him the bottle," the witness said. Ms. Marshard called teenager after teenager to the witness stand. Many were reluctant, and confused about details, but nevertheless a consistent picture emerged of Mr. Johnson's house as a place where teenagers could drink without fear of recrimination, and play drinking games on a table that the former shop teacher admitted he helped to build. They identified evidence seized from the home, including a distinctive refrigerator, and pornographic DVD cases. They identified pictures of various areas in Mr. Johnson's home.
The West Tisbury teenager testified about a gathering of teenagers at Mr. Johnson's home in November of 2008. He said he arrived at Mr. Johnson's in the early evening with two teenage girls. The girls' presence made Mr. Johnson angry. He said Mr. Johnson assaulted him when he tried to leave. "He got angry with me, and grabbed me by the shirt and pushed me against the wall and screamed in my face," the teenager said. The two young girls followed him to the witness stand to corroborate that account.
That gathering was a key part of the prosecution's case, and it was the subject of testimony from Tisbury police chief Dan Hanavan as the trial entered a second day. Chief Hanavan, who was a veteran patrolman at the time of the allegations, was the lead investigator in the case. After a parent went to police about concerns that Mr. Johnson was supplying alcohol to his son, Chief Hanavan went to Mr. Johnson's home and questioned him about the November 2008 gathering.
"He laid out some events from the week before that were inconsistent," Chief Hanavan said. Nine days later, Chief Hanavan and several other police officers returned to Mr. Johnson's home with a search warrant, and seized evidence. Following the search, Mr. Johnson was placed under arrest. After Chief Hanavan finished his testimony, Ms. Marshard rested her case.
Mr. Andrews, the defense attorney, immediately asked the judge for verdicts of not guilty on all counts. The defense argued that the Commonwealth had not met its burden of proof. Judge Macy granted the motion on one count, delivering a not guilty verdict on a charge of providing alcohol to a teenage girl, but the judge allowed the trial to continue on 12 other charges.
For the defense
Two adult friends of Mr. Johnson were called as witnesses in his defense. Both were present at the gathering of teenagers in November of 2008, when the prosecutor alleged Mr. Johnson assaulted a teenager. Steve Dacosta, age 27, testified that after Mr. Johnson and the teenager began to argue, he saw the teenager turn and advance toward Mr. Johnson. He said Mr. Johnson put his arm on the teenager's chest.
"He moved forward and pushed him against the wall and the door," Mr. Dacosta said. "It was forceful. I wouldn't say slammed. He (the teenager) was fighting back, trying to get him off." Mr. Dacosta demonstrated the actions of the teenager by flailing with his arms and fists in a circular motion. He then described how he and another adult separated Mr. Johnson and the teenager.
Next on the stand was Zach Windirel, a Vineyard resident at the time of the allegations, who now lives in New York. He also testified about the assault. "Things were getting heated," Mr. Windirel said. "Dan put his arm up defensively and backed him against the wall.
Following those witnesses came one of the most dramatic moments in the trial, as Mr. Andrews and Mr. Johnson conferred quietly about whether Mr. Johnson would take the witness stand in his own defense. Except for the whispers of the defense attorney and the defendant, the courtroom was silent. The parents of several teenage witnesses watched from the gallery, and Ms. Marshard stared intently at the defense table. Judge Macy broke the tension by calling a short recess.
When the trial resumed, Mr. Andrews called his client. Mr. Andrews took Mr. Johnson through the list of witnesses, asking Mr. Johnson if he ever provided alcohol, saw them drinking alcohol, or gave them access to alcohol or pornography. To each question, Mr. Johnson answered a sharp "no." Except when Mr. Andrews got to the teen Mr. Johnson was accused of assaulting. According to testimony, that teenager was at Mr. Johnson's house as often as five times a week, and often spent the night sleeping in a spare bedroom, or on a mat in a walk-in closet. When asked if he supplied that teenager with alcohol, Mr. Johnson said "yes."
"I was trying to keep him from going out and getting into more trouble," Mr. Johnson testified. "It was safer than letting him hang out with these so-called friends. He would tell me if I didn't get him alcohol, he would go out and buy drugs."
Mr. Johnson testified about several incidents when the teenager appeared to be in need of medical attention, including one time when he was unconscious after inhaling from an aerosol can. He testified that often, he would get a late night call from the teenager asking for a ride, and found the teenager intoxicated when he picked him up.
Mr. Johnson also testified about the assault, saying he was upset about the girls the teenager brought to the gathering.
"I'd had it," Mr. Johnson said. "They looked like they were 12 or 13. He got really upset. He wanted to walk to the Tisbury School. I suspected he was going down to the Tisbury School to buy drugs. I didn't want him to leave the house. I attempted to block his exit. [The teenager] turned and started coming at me. I put my arm up to defend myself and walked him back to the corner of the wall."
On cross examination, Ms. Marshard asked Mr. Johnson whether, as a teacher, he had a responsibility to students, parents, and his school. She asked whether, as an EMT, he had a responsibility to his patients. Mr. Johnson said "yes." Then she asked whether he ever contacted parents or police when he saw the teenager drinking. She asked whether, as a highly trained EMT, he ever took the teenager to a hospital for medical treatment. Mr. Johnson replied "no." Ms. Marshard's final question to Mr. Johnson undermined his contention that his actions were intended to help a troubled teenager. "As long as you kept providing [the teenager] with alcohol, he had a reason to come back to your house, didn't he?"
"Yes," Mr. Johnson answered. After a short redirect examination, the defense rested its case.
In his closing argument, Mr. Andrews told the court that Mr. Johnson never provided alcohol to any minors, as alleged in the charges. He said he never provided pornography to minors, and he highlighted the testimony of the two defense witnesses to refute the charge of assault.
"This is not a case about whether Mr. Johnson exercised good judgment," Mr. Andrews said. "He did not. There is no law against bad judgment."
Ms. Marshard, in her argument, told the court there was ample evidence to convict. She described his house as a safe place for teenagers to drink. "It was safe because it was safe to drink, without parents knowing, without school knowing, and under the tutelage and guidance of Mr. Johnson."
After a short recess, Judge Macy returned to the courtroom with his decisions, announcing the verdicts methodically, charge by charge. In addition to the earlier directed verdict, Judge Macy rendered not guilty verdicts on one of the charges of providing alcohol to a minor, and one of the charges of providing pornography. To all the other charges of providing alcohol and providing pornography, as well as the assault and battery, Judge Macy said the Commonwealth met its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Ms. Marshard asked that bail for Mr. Johnson be revoked. He has been free on $5,000 bail since shortly after his arrest last December. Mr. Andrews argued that he has appeared for every hearing and appeared for the trial. Mr. Johnson now lives with his parents in Pennsylvania.
"Showing up for trial is different than showing up for sentencing," Judge Macy said. "I'm going to revoke his bail.
Mr. Andrews declined to comment about the trial, as did Ms. Marshard. She did, however, make a point to praise the Tisbury police department. "Chief Hanavan did a great job investigating this case," Ms. Marshard said. "From beginning to end he did an extraordinary job. It's because of that follow up and dedication that we got the verdict we did. People are quick to criticize. They should be equally quick to recognize professionalism when they see it."
Chief Hanavan was brief in his comments following the verdicts. "I'm glad we ended up with the verdict we did," Chief Hanavan said. "Laura did a great job prosecuting the case. We are appreciative of the high school kids who came forward and told the truth."