The Greene County Judicial Courts Facility. (Photo by Dean Curtis)

A Springfield plastic surgeon charged with choking his deaf Uber driver pleaded guilty to misdemeanor fourth-degree assault this week.

As part of the special conditions of his plea agreement, Dr. Bharat Shah will serve two years of probation, complete a court-approved SATOP program and perform 40 hours of community service.

Shah, 56, was ordered to pay $600 in restitution to the Uber driver, court documents say.

Shah was also sentenced to serve 48 hours in jail. He was given credit for the 17 hours served at the time of his arrest. He will serve the remaining 31 hours in July.

During his probation, Shah cannot possess or consume alcohol or be present at any location where alcohol is the primary item for sale, the documents say.

Shah was originally charged with felony assault, but the state lowered the charge Thursday and the court accepted the doctor’s guilty plea.

Greene County Prosecutor Dan Patterson said it was important Shah be held accountable, admit what Shah had done and take responsibility.

“The victim in this case, the Uber driver, he was just doing his job when he was assaulted and injured,” Patterson said. “The reason for that assault has a lot to do with the abuse of alcohol by the defendant.

“While that might be a factor that is mitigating in some respects, it doesn’t excuse the conduct,” Patterson said. “When a person chooses to become that intoxicated and they do something like this, they must still be held accountable for their actions.”

According to investigators, a Greene County Sheriff’s deputy responded to the area of Farm Road 141 just after midnight on May 7 to a report of an assault. 

Shah, the caller, reported that his Uber driver would not stop hitting him and that he was going to kill the driver. 

When the deputy arrived, the Uber driver said he picked Shah up at the Inner Circle bar in downtown Springfield and was taking him home. 

The driver said Shah, who was riding in the backseat, reached his arm around the driver’s neck and began to choke the driver. The driver told the deputy that he momentarily lost consciousness, but was able to stop the vehicle and get out.

The deputy wrote in the statement that Shah admitted to putting his arm around the driver’s neck because he thought the driver wasn’t going to take him home. The deputy wrote that Shah said the driver was “never going to make it to where he was going” and that the driver’s behavior “was not normal.”

Two witnesses told the deputy that they observed Shah putting his arm around the driver’s neck and said they observed the driver gasping and struggling to breathe.

The driver is deaf, mostly non-verbal and communicated with the deputy by written statements, the statement said.

Patterson, the prosecutor, said it was important that the terms of Shah’s plea deal address the underlying issue of alcohol abuse and that the victim receive some sort of restoration for his injuries.

“Under Missouri law, physical injury is defined now as the slight impairment of the function of the body. What you had in this case was strangulation,” Patterson said. “While there might not be visible signs like a bruise or cut or necessarily red marks when you apply pressure to the throat, it can cause issues with swallowing.

“In this case, for a number of days, the victim was sore and difficulty swallowing,” Patterson said.

The Uber driver was checked out by a doctor to make sure he didn’t suffer any cardiovascular injuries, which sometimes happens with strangulation, Patterson added.

“Fortunately, he did not have more serious injuries,” he said.

A statement from Shah and his attorney, Joseph Passanise, issued Friday afternoon read:

“(Shah) accepted responsibility and is extremely remorseful for his actions.  He apologized to the involved party and is grateful that the Prosecutor amended the charge, and the Judge accepted the agreement.  This unfortunate incident was not from a place of intolerance or hate. 

“Dr. Shah was born deaf in one ear and understands the difficulty of hearing impairment and chose the field of otolaryngology to help make a difference in others’ lives.  He hopes his reckless behavior can be forgiven and wants to continue to be a difference-maker in our community.  Dr. Shah remains humbled by the continued support of his family, friends, and patients.”

Jackie Rehwald

Jackie Rehwald is a reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. She covers housing, homelessness, domestic violence and early childhood, among other public affairs issues. Her office line is 417-837-3659. More by Jackie Rehwald