Queens man admits to assaulting cop and living under an autistic man’s name for nearly 20 years

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A Jamaica man pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer during a traffic stop in 2017 and stealing the identity of an autistic man, prosecutors announced on Tuesday.

Joel Burnett, 40, initially pleaded guilty to first-degree assault for an incident that took place in July 2017. That same day, Burnett pleaded guilty to second-degree identity theft after it was discovered that he had been assuming the identity of an autistic man for nearly 20 years.

Burnett is due to return to court for sentencing on April 2, where a judge indicated he would sentence Burnett to 13 ½  years in prison to be followed by 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, with both sentences to run concurrently.

According to charges, on July 26, 2017, officers from the 103rd Precinct saw Burnett run a stop sign and attempted to stop the driver of the black Nissan Maxima in the vicinity of 110th Avenue in Jamaica. Burnett gave the officers a U.S. Virgin Islands driver’s license in the name of the autistic man, who lives in a group home. When police asked Burnett to step out of the car, he refused and stepped on the gas.

One of the officers was dragged along with the moving vehicle, causing the officer to suffer bruising and a fractured knee. When Burnet’s car collided with another car two blocks away, Burnett jumped out but the injured officer was able to free himself from the vehicle and apprehend Burnett.

In the stolen identity case, police found that Burnett’s given name was Joel Burnett and that he filed for and obtained a Visa to emigrate from his native Jamaica to the United States on July 19, 2000. Upon entering the country, Burnett took the identity of the autistic man and assumed it – as well as the victim’s birth date – for the last 19 years.

“In pleading guilty, the defendant admitted to intentionally using his vehicle as a weapon against a police officer who was doing his job when he and his partner observed the defendant run a stop sign,” said Chief Assistant District Attorney John M. Ryan. “The defendant refused – when ordered – to exit his vehicle and instead stepped on the gas. One of the police officers was dragged and sustained serious injuries as a result of the defendant’s actions. The second case, in which the defendant has also admitted his guilt, he stole the identity of an autistic man living in a group home. The defendant lived with this stolen identity for nearly two decades. As a result of his illegal actions, the defendant will be incarcerated.”