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Revenge or self-defense? San Francisco homeless man goes on trial over beating

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 on May 23. The trial of Garrett Doty began on Thursday. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

When Garrett Doty beat Don Carmignani over the head with a metal pipe in April, the then-24-year-old homeless man did it because he was afraid that he himself was the target of a vigilante attack, his defense attorney argued Thursday.

Word had been spreading on the street that someone was stalking San Francisco's Marina District, looking for sleeping homeless people to spray with an aerosol can believed to contain pepper or bear spray, Doty's attorney, Kleigh Hathaway, said.

So when Carmignani threatened to stab Doty for camping in his neighborhood and then sprayed him, Doty reacted in self-defense, argued his lawyer.

“This fear wasn’t based in Mr. Doty’s imagination," said Hathaway, an attorney with the Public Defender’s Office. "It was based on cold, hard facts that a vigilante was patrolling the Marina."

That was one of two competing versions of events that jurors heard on day one of Doty's trial in San Francisco Superior Court. He is being tried on assault charges in a case that has challenged preconceived notions about crime and homelessness in San Francisco.

Attorney Kleigh Hathaway speaks to the press.
Kleigh Hathaway, Garrett Doty's public defender, is arguing that her client acted in self-defense. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

The opposing narrative came from prosecutor Kourtney Bell of the District Attorney’s Office, who argued that Doty acted out of revenge—not self-defense—after Carmignani threatened and then sprayed him.

Bell showed the jury a photograph of Carmignani's bloodied face that was taken shortly after the attack. A juror winced when Bell played a bystander video of Doty striking Carmignani over the head with the pipe.

"Mr. Carmignani is not an angel," Bell said. "But it's important to remember that even a person who has engaged in prior transgressions should be able to get justice in the City and County of San Francisco."

Bell argued that Carmignani was not fighting or in possession of pepper spray during the latter portion of his altercation with Doty and that Doty striking him with the metal pipe amounted to a “one-way assault.” 

Kourtney Bell, San Francisco Assistant District Attorney, walks through the Hall of Justice.
Kourtney Bell, the prosecutor on the case, argued that Don Carmignani deserved justice, even though he was "not an angel." | Source: Jungho Kim for The Standard

Judge Threatens Carmignani With Arrest If He Does Not Come to Court

Carmignani was beaten with the pipe on April 5 near Magnolia and Laguna streets after confronting Doty and another man who were camped out near the homes where Carmignani and his parents live. The confrontation was largely captured on video, which eventually showed Carmignani running away as Doty chased him with the pipe.

The beating was at first seized on as an example of deteriorating conditions on city streets and San Francisco’s government failing to protect its residents from lawlessness. Carmignani is a well-known businessman and San Francisco native who briefly served on the Fire Commission.

But that narrative was turned on its head when the public defender for Doty alleged that Carmignani had sprayed him. She also revealed that police had collected reports on some eight other spray attacks on homeless people in the area between November 2021 and January 2023.

Video from a security camera shows Don Carmignani approaching Garrett Doty with a can of spray on April 5.

Attorneys for Carmignani have repeatedly denied that he was the individual spraying homeless people in the earlier incidents. He has not been arrested or charged with crimes relating to those incidents, although police have said they are investigating whether Carmignani committed the attacks.

Doty, who is being held in jail as his trial plays out, sat with his legal team in court Thursday wearing a button-down shirt and dark slacks. His hair was long and shaggy, and his beard was unkempt. The first day of his trial also happened to mark his 25th birthday.

Carmignani was not present in court Thursday, and it remains unclear whether he will testify. San Francisco Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ross, who is presiding over the case, threatened to issue a warrant for his arrest Thursday if he does not appear in court Monday morning.

His attorney, John Cox, declined to comment when reached by The Standard.

Carmignani has previously refused to take the stand in the case, citing injuries from the beating. When he did finally take the stand at Doty’s preliminary hearing, the former fire commissioner showed up to court using a walker.

Garrett Doty walks down the steps outside the Hall of Justice.
Garrett Doty was previously out of custody before violating the terms of his release. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

At the preliminary hearing, Carmignani recounted his beating in graphic detail while invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when asked about the earlier alleged spray attacks. He only addressed one of the incidents to offer an alibi, saying he was out of town at the time of the attack.

Doty had only been in San Francisco for a matter of months before the altercation.

Hathaway described Doty as a musician and artist who wandered to San Francisco from Louisiana in December 2022 seeking "fame and fortune." Instead, she said, he ended up on the streets and fell in with a bad crowd—a homeless couple named Nathaniel Roye and Ashley Buck, who Hathaway said have become a “little bit infamous” for wreaking havoc on the Marina District.

Carmignani lives in a house his grandfather built on Magnolia Street near other properties owned by his family, which has lived in San Francisco for generations, Hathaway told the jury.

"That is their fiefdom, and he is the king,” she said.

But Hathaway said Carmignani showed his “true colors” when a surveillance camera first captured a man spraying a homeless person sleeping on Magnolia Street in November 2021. Hathaway said the man was Carmignani.

Footage from a security camera shows a man spraying a person lying on the street on Nov. 6, 2021.

Kristin Onorato was among the first witnesses to testify in the trial. She lives on the third story of an apartment building overlooking the scene of the beating. She said she was at home that day when she heard Carmignani yelling at Doty and calling Roye a “white n-word.”

“He said, ‘Get the fuck off my block. I own this block. If you don’t leave within two hours, I’m going to kill you. I’m going to stab you,’” she said.

Onorato said Carmignani left before returning with the canister of what looked like Mace or aerosol spray and using it on Doty and Roye. It was after that she said she saw Doty strike Carmignani about two times with the metal pipe.

Doty is facing three assault and battery charges. Witness testimony in his trial is expected to continue on Friday morning.

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