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Former SF official recounts beating by homeless man, stays silent on earlier bear-spray attacks

Three men wearing masks walk through a court corridor; one leans on a walker, two appear to assist him.
Don Carmignani, left, and his attorney John Cox, center, leave the courtroom at the Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St. in San Francisco on Tuesday. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

Before being clubbed over the head with a metal pipe, Don Carmignani blinded himself with his own pepper spray.

As he rubbed his eyes and tried to wipe off the blood gushing down his face, the man with the pipe hit him again and again.

“The only thing I can remember him saying was, ‘Die, motherfucker, die,’” Carmignani said. “And he kept hitting me, and he kept hitting me.”

Those were some of the moments that Carmignani recalled in San Francisco Superior Court Wednesday while testifying against Garrett Doty, the 24-year-old homeless man who allegedly attacked him near his Marina District home April 5.

The beating stoked fears about public safety in San Francisco, but the narrative around it was later complicated by allegations that Carmignani instigated the attack with a 10-inch canister of bear spray.

Doty’s public defender, Kleigh Hathaway, alleged that Carmignani matched the description of a suspect in a series of unprovoked bear- or pepper-spray attacks on homeless people not far from his Marina District home. At least nine such attacks were reported to police between November 2021 and January 2023.

Security camera footage shows a man spraying a person sleeping on the street on Nov. 6, 2021.

Carmignani Takes the Fifth on Bear-Spray Question

Carmignani, 53, took the advice of his attorney in court Wednesday and invoked the Fifth Amendment, declining to answer questions about the prior attacks or on whether he had previously used pepper spray.

Answering those questions could have opened up Carmignani to criminal prosecution, Hathaway told reporters outside the courtroom.

“The attorney is doing his job,” Hathaway said. “In Mr. Carmignani’s case, we have at least six incidents that match his description.”

Attorneys for Carmignani have said on his behalf in the past that he is not responsible for the earlier bear- or pepper-spray incidents. The Standard also reviewed police records that suggested more than one suspect may have committed them.

Carmignani was in court Wednesday for Doty’s preliminary hearing, where a judge will decide whether there is enough evidence for his alleged attacker to stand trial on assault and battery charges.

Still taking painkillers and recovering after brain surgery, Carmignani pushed a walker up to the witness stand and testified while Doty sat in a char, watching.

A person in a beanie and face mask descends steps, with onlookers in the background.
Garrett Doty walks outside the Hall of Justice on Tuesday. | Benjamin Fanjoy /The Standard | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

Carmignani said he was at his home the morning of April 5 when his mother told him that she and his father were afraid to leave their house next door. The family lives near Magnolia and Laguna streets.

Doty and two other homeless people had set up camp outside her gate, were “smoking crack” and “yelling and screaming,” Carmignani testified.

When he leaned out his dining room window to ask them to leave, Carmignani said the campers yelled something back at him. So he called 911, asked police to help move them out of the area and then left for work.

By the time he got home, the campers had moved across the street to a laundromat where Carmignani decided to confront them himself.

Carmignani said Doty was yelling and screaming when he walked up and asked him to move his stuff. He then realized that Doty had something in his hand, which he described as a “kitchen knife or metal object or screwdriver.”

Video appears to show Carmignani confronting Doty on April 5, 2023.

An argument broke out between the two men that spilled out over to a nearby gas station. Carmignani said he accidentally pepper-sprayed himself in the eyes as Doty began swinging the pipe at him.

Carmignani said he was struck repeatedly and decided to run because he was afraid that he would pass out and Doty would “kill” him.

“I was seeing darkness and stars,” Carmignani recalled. “I was shaking, and I didn’t know if it was going to ever be over.”

The last blow hit him in the back of the head as he ran away.

Carmignani made it to safety when someone grabbed him, took him back to his family, and he was put in an ambulance.

The last next thing he remembers is being in the hospital emergency room. He suffered a fractured skull and numerous other injuries including a wound to his cheek that left flesh hanging down from the side of his face.

Video shows the beating of Don Carmignani on April 5, 2023

During cross-examination on Wednesday, Hathaway—Doty’s public defender—pressed Carmignani on whether he confronted Doty with pepper spray or “bear mace.”

Video footage of the encounter appears to show Carmignani walking up to Doty and pulling a black canister out of his sweater pocket.

After repeatedly saying he did not recall having spray while confronting Doty, Carmignani conceded that he did have pepper spray.

He said the spray was given to him by his father.

He also acknowledged during questioning Wednesday by the District Attorney’s Office that he had pepper spray on him leading up to the beating.

In an interview with police last week, Carmignani told police he never used the spray before, according to Hathaway.

But if he was going to use it, she said Carmignani told police he would walk up to someone, put it in their face and spray it at them.

Carmignani is expected to continue testifying Tuesday morning.

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