A North Bellmore man has pleaded guilty to assaulting his Uber driver, a Muslim, with a flashlight last year.
At 1:15 a.m. on Feb. 19, 2017, Phillip Gannotta, 23, of Davenport Place, called the Uber car for a ride from Massapequa Park to a North Bellmore address, along with two friends. Once in North Bellmore, Gannotta and the driver, Anwar Syed, got into an argument, Nassau County police said. At some point, Gannotta got out of the car and began hitting and kicking it, breaking a window.
Gannotta then hit Syed several times in the face with a flashlight and kicked him in the face, causing facial fractures, according to police. Syed was taken to an area hospital.
Ibrahim Hooper, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the Herald last year that Syed, who has recovered from his injuries, contacted the organization and said that before the beating, Gannotta had asked him what faith he followed.
“He asked me, ‘Where you from?’ So I told him, ‘I’m from Pakistan.’ And then he asked me, ‘What is your religion?’ So I told him, ‘I’m Muslim,’ because I am Muslim,” Syed told WABC-TV last month, adding that he had spent five days in the hospital and that his 13-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son were traumatized.
Hooper said that CAIR was investigating the incident as a hate crime because of Syed’s allegations. But Gannotta’s attorney, Stephen Scaring, said on May 18, 2017, that eyewitnesses disputed Syed’s account.
“The problem for the driver is that there were two other witnesses in the car who will testify that that never happened,” Scaring said. “It’s a made-up story and he’s trying to create some racial hostility.”
According to Scaring, Syed ran over Gannotta’s foot after he and the two other passengers got out of the car because Syed would not take them to the correct address.
“My understanding is … that the driver was dropping them off at the wrong spot and it was very late at night,” Scaring said. “The driver used some foul language and drove over my client’s foot, so according to the information we have and talking to the witnesses who were not charged, there was no discussion at any point other than them pleading with [Syed] to please take them to the proper address.”
Nevertheless, Gannotta pleaded guilty on Sept. 20 to one charge of assault with intent to cause physical injury with a weapon — a Class D felony — according to court records. Gannotta’s guilty plea covered the numerous other charges against him, including criminal mischief and possession of a weapon, according to court documents.
Scaring had filed a motion to have some of the evidence against Gannotta suppressed, but Judge Teresa Corrigan denied the motion on May 8.
Gannotta is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 20.
Miriam Sholder, deputy communications director for the Nassau County district attorney’s office, declined to comment on the case.