Pace bus driver gets 81 months for sexually assaulting passenger with cerebral palsy (but he won’t serve any prison time)

Burnell Johnson (Cook County sheriff’s office, Charterville)

CHICAGO — A suburban Chicago bus driver accused of sexually assaulting a female passenger living with cerebral palsy has been sentenced to 81 months in prison. However, because Burnell Johnson spent nearly six years on electronic monitoring while the case was pending, he will not serve any actual prison time.

Johnson, 66, pleaded guilty this week to one count of aggravated criminal sexual assault of a handicapped person, according to court records. Judge Neera Walsh handed down the sentence.

Prosecutors accused Johnson of sexually assaulting the same 33-year-old victim at least twice in January 2018 as she traveled from a cerebral palsy treatment center. The victim could not give legal consent because she functioned as a six-year-old, officials said.

After picking the woman up, Johnson parked his Pace bus in Oak Park, covered a surveillance camera with his hat, and sexually assaulted the woman, who was also visually impaired, prosecutors said. While Johnson’s hat obstructed the camera lens, microphones recorded him making sexual comments, according to prosecutors.

A judge initially held Johnson without bail and a second judge issued a no-bail hold three days later.

But, three days after that, it all changed when Johnson appeared before his third judge, Stanley Hill. During the third hearing, a source told CWBChicago, Johnson’s sister sat in the gallery. She used to work as a clerk at the courthouse. Hill knew her by name.

After asking her how much the family could afford for bail, Hill lowered Johnson’s bond to the amount she provided: $400, with an ankle monitor. Two weeks later, Hill terminated the electronic monitoring order, too, instructing Johnson to observe a “24/7 curfew.”

Within days, court officers deemed Johnson non-compliant with the curfew order because he did not answer the door when they visited his home, according to court records. By then, the case had been assigned to a different judge. She raised his bail and put him back on an ankle monitor.

Johnson remained on electronic monitoring for years, with each day counting as a day of credit toward any prison sentence he might eventually face. Finally, after earning 69 months and 12 days of credit, he pleaded guilty this week.

By law, his 81-month sentence was reduced by 15%, just enough for him to avoid prison time. According to the Illinois Department of Corrections inmate information portal, he reported to the Stateville Correctional Center yesterday, March 21, and was released the same day.

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com