What to Know
- Man who assumed identity of man with autism for nearly two decades also admitted to assaulting a police officer during traffic stop, DA says
- Joel Burnett, 40, of Queens plead guilty to assaulting cop during traffic stop and for stealing the identity of a man with autism
- Burnett is expected to be sentenced April 2
A Queens man who assumed the identity of a man with autism for nearly two decades also admitted to assaulting a police officer during a traffic stop in 2017, prosecutors say.
Joel Burnett, 40, entered two guilty pleas - one for assaulting a police officer during a traffic stop and the other for stealing the identity of a man with autism, Chief Assistant District Attorney John M. Ryan, on behalf of Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, announced Tuesday.
The attack stems from a car stop in July 2017 and resulted in the officer being injured. When Burnett was arrested in the assault case, it was discovered that he had assumed the identity of a man with autism for nearly two decades, prosecutors say.
Burnett is expected to be sentenced April 2 to 13-and-a-half years in prison and five years post-release supervision for the assault on the police officer and one-and-a half to three years in prison for identity theft. Both sentences are to be served concurrently.
According to the charges, on the afternoon of July 26, 2017, officers from the New York City 103rd Police Precinct allegedly saw Burnett run a stop sign and attempted to stop the driver, prosecutors say. Burnett produced a U.S. Virgin Island’s driver’s license in the name of the man with autism.
Prosecutors say that when police asked Burnett to step out of the vehicle, he refused and instead stepped on the gas — dragging one of the officers along with the moving vehicle. They say when Burnett’s car collided with another vehicle, he jumped out but the injured officer was able to free himself from the vehicle and apprehend him.
As a result of being dragged for two city blocks, the officer was treated for injuries, including bruising and a fractured knee, prosecutors say.
In the identity theft case, Burnett filed for and obtained a Visa to emigrate from his native Jamaica to the United States on July 19, 2000, prosecutors say. Upon gaining entry to the United States, Burnett assumed the identity of a man with severe autism who lives in a group home, according to prosecutors, using the assumed identity — as well as the birth date of the victim — for the last 19 years.