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Suspect in brutal beating of ex-San Francisco official will stand trial despite self-defense claims

Two people stand near the entrance of a courtroom, one wearing a mask, with signage above and beside them.
Garrett Doty stands at the Hall of Justice on May 23, 2023. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

A San Francisco businessman who briefly served on the Fire Commission fits the description of the suspect in several pepper-spray attacks on homeless people near his house, a police investigator testified Thursday.

Don Carmignani bears a “strong resemblance” to the man who was caught on video spraying a sleeping homeless person in the face one night in November 2021, Sgt. Nicolas Pena said in court.

His testimony helped a public defender make a self-defense argument for why her client Garrett Doty, who is homeless, should not stand trial for beating Carmignani with a metal pole in April. 

But San Francisco Superior Court Judge Linda Colfax ruled that prosecutors had presented enough evidence for Doty’s case to head to trial, finding that a jury should decide the self-defense issue.

The ruling came after days of testimony in a case that grabbed national headlines and fed dueling narratives about unchecked crime in San Francisco and a trend of vigilantism in cities around the nation.

Carmignani, 53, was attacked on April 5 after confronting Doty outside the homes where the former city official and his parents live next door to each other in the Marina District, according to video and witness testimony.

He suffered serious injuries including a fractured skull, broken jaw and a wound to his cheek that left flesh hanging down the side of his face.

In an interview with KPIX after the attack, he said there were “animals in the street” threatening his family and that police could not stop it.

“My city is in chaos,” Carmignani said.

But the case took a turn when Doty’s public defender, Kleigh Hathaway, revealed that police noted that at least eight other pepper-spray attacks on homeless people were “possibly related” to the beating.

Hathaway used those reports to argue that Doty beat Carmignani in self-defense because her client knew the former official had a history of violently pepper-spraying homeless people in the area.

During Thursday’s proceedings, she said the idea that Carmignani was a victim was “laughable.”

“Carmignani is a violent, menacing vigilante, the kind of person who would continue to threaten an individual who is much smaller,” Hathaway said.

Through his attorneys, Carmignani denied being the perpetrator in those other spray attacks. On the stand during an earlier court date, he refused to answer questions about most of them and said only that he was leaving town on the day of one of the incidents.

Colfax allowed the case to proceed despite finding that Carmignani instigated the attack, having confronted Doty with a large canister of what was described in court as “bear mace” or pepper spray.

“Mr. Carmignani’s actions in this circumstance on this day were anything but the actions of the vulnerable as he was the initial aggressor,” she said.

She also found that Carmignani was an unreliable witness whose testimony was contradicted by video footage and who selectively said he could not recall details about what happened.

“I don’t find Mr. Carmignani’s testimony to be credible,” Colfax said.

Her ruling came after Pena, the lead investigator in the case, testified during questioning by Hathaway that he did not do any follow-up investigation on the other bear-spray attacks despite Carmignani fitting the suspect description in several of them.

Pena said he did not do further investigation because in two of the incidents, the age of the suspect did not match Carmignani. Also, he had video footage that captured the beating.

But Colfax criticized police for not digging into those leads.

“I am troubled—and that’s a somewhat generous word—that there was no follow-up, even though Sgt. Pena found that these other incidents” involved similar suspect descriptions and homeless victims, Colfax said.

While Doty was in custody Thursday after getting arrested for skipping an earlier court date and violating a stay-away order, Colfax ordered his release ahead of his next court date July 25.

She placed him on electronic monitoring and ordered him to get treatment for anger management and substance abuse issues.

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

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