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Ex-San Francisco official offers alibi for one of series of bear-spray attacks on homeless

An elderly person in a cap and mask uses a walker, flanked by people in suits and masks.
Don Carmignani, left, and his attorney John Cox, center, leave the courtroom at the Hall of Justice on May 23, 2023.

A former San Francisco official whose beating spurred claims that he bear-sprayed homeless people in a series of incidents near his home denied allegations Monday that he carried out one of the numerous attacks.

But the ex-official, former Fire Commissioner and businessman Don Carmignani, invoked his Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself and refused to answer questions from the stand about the other spray attacks on homeless people that surfaced in connection with the case.

Carmignani was in court to testify against Garrett Doty, a 24-year-old homeless man who beat him with a metal pipe near Carmignani’s home in the Marina District on April 5, in an incident that drew national attention and sparked fears about crime.

While Doty faces assault and battery charges, his defense lawyer, Kleigh Hathaway, accuses Carmignani of instigating the attack by confronting her client with a can of bear spray. Doty, the lawyer argues, knew that Carmignani had a history of violence against homeless people and struck him with the rod in self-defense.

Under intense questioning by Hathaway, Carmignani directly addressed one of those prior incidents for the first time Monday. He said he was not the assailant who reportedly opened up a tent near Lombard and Pierce streets on Nov. 11, 2022, pepper-sprayed the man sleeping inside and told the victim to “get out of my town.”

In this one instance, instead of invoking the Fifth Amendment, Carmignani asked the judge if he could pull out his phone to look at his calendar before offering up a possible alibi.

“On Nov. 11, I had a flight first thing in the morning to go to a wedding with my girlfriend,” Carmignani said from the stand.

While Carmignani denied spraying the man sleeping in the tent, he declined under guidance from his attorney to answer questions about other spray attacks on homeless people near his home. He did, however, say he was not the man seen in a photo of a possible suspect in a Jan. 6 incident. In that case, the assailant reportedly sprayed a man and woman, stole the woman’s wallet and threw their dog to the ground.

A blurry image of a person seated, wearing a cap and a light-colored outfit, with a red backdrop.
A person of interest in the January 2023 bear-spray attack is captured on camera. | Courtesy photo

Whether Hathaway can show that Carmignani is responsible for any of the earlier attacks is central to Doty’s defense, because the alleged violence could explain why Doty repeatedly beat the former official with a metal rod and chased him down the street in broad daylight.

To further her argument, Hathaway played body-worn camera audio that appeared to capture Carmignani telling his girlfriend not to talk to the police after his beating.

“Don’t say nothing to nobody,” Carmignani can be heard telling his girlfriend. “Don’t say nothing to any cop, no one.”

Carmignani suffered serious injuries to his head, a punctured cheek and a broken jaw. He underwent surgery and has shown up in court using a walker to get to the witness stand.

Doty was previously out of custody in the case, but after being arrested for skipping court, he appeared dressed head to toe in County Jail orange on Monday.

The judge, Linda Colfax, had previously released Doty because Carmignani was not well enough to testify against him. She found Doty in contempt of court for not showing up to his preliminary hearing last week and gave him 5 days in jail, which he has already served.

While prosecutors objected to Hathaway asking Carmignani about the earlier incidents, Colfax allowed her to question the former official about some of them.

The judge said the suspect descriptions in those cases are “very similar to Mr. Carmignani,” and the locations of the incidents were in a similar area.

Police have said they are investigating whether Carmignani committed the earlier attacks but have not publicly named him as a suspect.

The case against Doty is expected to continue Tuesday morning.

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

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