A former San Francisco fire commissioner beaten with a metal rod is facing new allegations that he bear-sprayed homeless people in his neighborhood in a series of attacks leading up to his own assault.
Don Carmignani suffered a serious head injury when a homeless man allegedly bludgeoned him outside his mother's Marina District home in an April 5 attack that attracted national attention. Authorities later arrested 24-year-old Garret Doty and filed assault and battery charges against him.
But the case against Doty became more complicated Tuesday when a prosecutor told Carmignani’s attorney that the District Attorney’s Office planned to drop the case “based on new evidence.”
While the office quickly backtracked, Doty’s public defender revealed that the “new evidence” appeared to be video footage and police reports from several other incidents in and around the Marina in which a man bear-sprayed homeless people.
The public defender, Kleigh Hathaway, said Carmignani matches the description of the suspect in the eight bear spray attacks from November 2021 through January 2023—all of which occurred near his mother’s house.
Nick Colla, an attorney for Carmignani, said his client was not the person carrying out those attacks.
“Our client vehemently denies that he is the alleged individual who is committing these acts against homeless people,” Colla said.
Video from the earliest incident shows a man walking up to a person sleeping on a sidewalk and spraying the victim in the face for about five seconds as the victim tries to cover his face and get up off the ground. The suspect, who is wearing a baseball cap and medical mask, then casually walks away.
Hathaway said Carmignani appears to be the man in the “shocking” video.
“This is exactly like the can that he had during the assault with my client,” Hathaway told The Standard.
Her office argues that Carmignani instigated the fight and says video of the April 5 incident shows him walking up to Doty with a spray can in his hand.
Doty was expected to appear in court Wednesday morning for his preliminary hearing to decide whether the case heads to trial. However, a judge delayed the hearing until Thursday at the request of the District Attorney's Office.
District Attorney Brooke Jenkins later assured reporters that her office plans to proceed with the case, suggesting that a less-experienced prosecutor incorrectly communicated to Carmignani's attorney that the case would be dropped.
However, Jenkins said Doty must be released from jail by law if the case does not move forward with a preliminary hearing Thursday. While her office needs him to testify at the hearing, she said Carmignani has not agreed to speak to police or come to court.
"He is a necessary witness in the case for a number of reasons, given many factual allegations that have come up," Jenkins said at a press conference. "Without him present to testify, that created evidentiary problems for us."
Hathaway told The Standard she received eight police reports as well as video Tuesday documenting the earlier bear spray attacks. The victims included homeless people sitting on benches or sleeping in a tent.
In the most recent case from Jan. 6, the assailant did not stop at bear-spraying a homeless man and woman, according to the Public Defender’s Office. He reportedly threw their dog to the ground and stole a cellphone, earrings and wallet from the woman, the office said.
Hathaway said the assailant told his victims: “Get the fuck out of my town,” and “You don’t belong here.”
Carmignani is not named in any of the police reports, Hathaway said. However, she said, a police inspector wrote that he included the reports in the case file against Doty because they were “possibly related to this incident.”
Hathaway reiterated these allegations in court Wednesday, saying she was dismayed that prosecutors decided to move forward with the case given the evidence that Carmignani was involved in "eight separate acts of violence.”
"The victims are either asleep in their tents, [or] sitting on a bench minding their own business,” she said in court.
Hathaway said the charges should be dropped against Doty because he was acting reasonably knowing about Carmignani’s alleged history of aggression.
"I would say my client is acting in lawful self-defense," Hathaway said.
At an afternoon press conference Wednesday, Jenkins said police have not presented a case against Carmignani stemming from the earlier incidents.
“I am not aware that Mr. Carmignani has ever been arrested for any of these incidents,” Jenkins said. “These are all allegations right now.”
SFPD declined to say whether it was investigating Carmignani in connection with the bear-spray attacks and referred The Standard to Jenkins’ office.
Jenkins acknowledged that her office may have to contend with the defense using the earlier incidents to attack her case against Doty. But she said the case will turn on what happened at the time of the incident.
“That is what is at issue here, whether or not Mr. Doty committed [a crime],” Jenkins said. “We always have victims and defendants who have different histories, and those may be relevant at certain times for different reasons.”
Joe Alioto Veronese, an attorney who is close to Carmignani, said he viewed an image provided by a neighborhood group of a suspect in the earlier attacks on homeless people. He said the person was not Carmignani.
“It doesn’t look anything like Don,” Alioto Veronese said. “It’s a whole different guy.”
CBS Bay Area reported late Tuesday evening that Carmignani denied instigating the altercation with Doty.
"I didn't go out there to fight anyone," Carmignani told CBS. "I'm trying to get them down the road, go to the park."
Garrett Leahy contributed additional reporting for this story.
Michael Barba can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org