Skip to main content

Who is Don Carmignani, the ex-SF fire commissioner accused of bear-spraying homeless people?

A man with a neat haircut, wearing a blue shirt and dark jacket, looking slightly off-camera.
Former San Francisco Fire Commissioner Don Carmignani was hospitalized after being beaten by a homeless man on April 5, 2023, following an altercation outside his mother’s home in the Marina District in San Francisco.

Don Carmignani was assaulted outside his mother’s Marina District home and hospitalized with serious injuries in an April 5 attack that attracted national attention. Police later arrested 24-year-old Garrett Doty, a homeless man who faces assault and battery charges.

Now, video evidence and police reports allegedly tie the former city fire commissioner to a string of bear-spray attacks on homeless people in the Marina, jeopardizing his case against Doty. An attorney for Carmignani said he “vehemently denies that he is the alleged individual who is committing these acts against homeless people.”

Back in 2016, Carmignani was described as “a bull of a man with slicked-back hair, meaty fists, and a penchant for gold chains, bowling shirts that Guy Fieri might envy, and Irish whiskey” by SF Weekly.

READ MORE: Don Carmignani’s Alleged Attacker Will Be Released From Jail

But what else do we know about the businessman thrust into the center of a national debate on crime, punishment and the homelessness crisis? 

A person in a beanie is seen spraying a homeless person on the sidewalk.
Attorneys for Garrett Doty believe this video shows former SF Fire Commissioner Don Carmignani to be the man using bear-spray. | Courtesy SF Public Defender’s Office | Source: San Francisco Public Defenders Office

Domestic violence conviction: SFGate reported that Carmignani was arrested by San Francisco police in September 2013 on suspicion of felony domestic violence and making criminal threats related to an incident reported by his then-wife, Yvette, authorities said. 

He ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge and was sentenced to a fine, probation, counseling and the surrender of several firearms, SF Weekly reported in 2016

Cannabis Don: Nicknamed “The Don of San Francisco” by online radio station All In Radio and “Cannabis Don” by SF Weekly, Carmignani was the biggest medical marijuana dispensary license holder in the city, holding 16 medical cannabis dispensary permits at 214 California St., according to an SF Weekly article from March 2016.

“I’m San Francisco-based; my family came over in 1940,” Carmignani told All In Radio in a YouTube video posted Oct. 4, 2022. “My grandfather and his brother and his father came over here and made a name for himself over here in the city. My parents live in the house that my grandfather built; I built the house next door. I got two beautiful kids.”

An old, green sign reads "George R. Moscone Recreation Center," against a backdrop of buildings under a blue sky.
Moscone Recreation Center is located in the Marina District, the neighborhood where Don Carmignani's mother lives. | Felix Uribe Jr. for The Standard

Carmignani goes on to tell the radio show he didn’t know anything about cannabis when he got into the business but successfully gained almost 20 city cannabis permits.

“I came from a technology background. I had a software company; I sold it for a minute,” Carmignani told the radio show. “I had a big software company—New York, Chicago, Boston. I did e-discovery for law firms and corporations. I knew nothing about cannabis.”

Fire Commissioner: Appointed by former Mayor Ed Lee to the Fire Commission in 2013—a city oversight body that monitors the SF Fire Department—Carmignani held the post for just four months before resigning after his arrest on domestic violence charges.  

“I’ve done my politics side,”  Carmignani told the radio show. “I was a fire commissioner. I was on the police advisory board. Mayor Lee was my guy; I’m cool with London Breed,”

A man in a suit stands before a wine rack, gazing at the camera, with bottles partly visible.
Gavin Newsom attends the opening of his PlumpJack wine shop on Oct. 29, 1992. | Steve Castillo/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Politically connected: Carmignani’s father owned Balboa Café in the Marina District, an eatery that was leased to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s PlumpJack Group. The wine and hotel group is now owned by a blind trust managed by Shyla Hendrickson, a Newsom family friend and attorney.

“Me knowing Gavin Newsom personally, I know him. I grew up him with,” Carmignani told All In Radio.

San Francisco lawyer and 2018 mayoral candidate Angela Alioto, whose son Joseph Alioto Veronese ran for San Francisco district attorney in 2022 and is friends with Carmignani, told The Standard she has met Carmignani at various political functions over the years.

A man in glasses, wearing a casual zip-up sweater over a shirt, stands indoors, looking slightly away from the camera.
Joe Alioto Veronese, candidate for San Francisco district attorney, speaks to The Standard’s Han Li on Sept. 13, 2022. | Sophie Bearman/The Standard

“We all grew up together—the Carmignanis are another Italian family in the Marina that everybody knows,” Alioto said. “He’s always very gracious […] a very big guy and makes a clear presence in the room, just a big happy guy. ‘Can I pick up the pastries,’ that kind of guy.”

Larry Mazzola Jr., a Sacred Heart high school friend of Carmignani’s and the business manager of the United Association Local 38 plumbers and pipefitters union, described his friend as a good guy who loves San Francisco. 

“If Don did something to him first, I guess you could say the first hit was self-defense, but not the next 10. It’s frickin’ ridiculous,” Mazzola said. “The city is putting San Franciscans in these positions to defend themselves and interact with the homeless. Like the guy who sprayed the homeless person with the hose, the city put him in that position.” 

Carmignani was contacted for comment through his lawyer but did not respond in time for publication.

Doty, the suspect in the attack on Carmignani, is now due in court Thursday for a preliminary hearing.

Correction: This story was updated with the proper spelling of Garrett Doty’s name.