Skip to main content

Ex-San Francisco official accused of bear spray attacks won’t testify against man who beat him

Fomer SFFD Commissioner Don Carmignani, wearing a face mask, walks through the hallways of the Hall of Justice in San Francisco.
Don Carmignani walks through the hallway of Superior Court in San Francisco on Monday. He had been expected to testify against Garret Doty but prosecutors changed their tactics at the last minute. | Source: Gina Castro/The Standard

San Francisco prosecutors backtracked on plans Monday to put a former official on the stand in the trial of his attacker after a key ruling would have opened him up to questioning by the defense about potentially damning conduct.

Don Carmignani, 54, was called to testify as a witness for the District Attorney’s Office against Garrett Doty, the 25-year-old homeless man who is facing assault and battery charges for beating him with a metal pipe in the Marina District in April. The judge had gone as far as to threaten Carmignani with arrest if he did not show up to testify.

But when Carmignani, a local businessman and San Francisco native who briefly served on the Fire Commission, showed up to the Hall of Justice on Monday, he was turned away by the prosecutor on the case.

The decision came after San Francisco Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ross ruled Friday that the public defender on the case, Kleigh Hathaway, could question Carmignani about a series of bear spray attacks that Hathaway claims he committed against homeless people, including her client.

Previously, Ross had decided that Hathaway would only be allowed to question Carmignani about two of the incidents in which she had witnesses who could identify Carmignani as the assailant, Hathaway said.

If Carmignani wanted to invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself when asked about the bear spray attacks, as he did during Doty’s preliminary hearing, Ross also decided that he would have to do so in front of the jury, according to Hathaway.

a woman in a gray suit speaks to reporters in the halllway of a courthouse.
Kleigh Hathaway, Garrett Doty's public defender, speaks in the hallway of Superior Court. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Attorneys for Carmignani have repeatedly denied that he was behind the prior bear or pepper spray incidents, and Carmignani said during the preliminary hearing that he was out of town when one of them occurred.

The decision not to put Carmignani on the stand means that the trial will proceed without a key witness who had previously described the attack by Doty in graphic detail and had extensively described the impact of his injuries on his life.

The prosecutor on the case, Kourtney Bell, had acknowledged during his opening statement that Carmignani was “not an angel” but still argued that he deserved justice for Doty beating him with the metal pipe.

At the same time, it means that the public defender will not get to question Carmignani about the bear spray incidents, which are a central part of Doty’s defense and could help bolster the argument that he acted in self-defense.

A video surveillance camera captures a man in black coat aiming a spray can at another man on a city street.
A screengrab from a still image taken from surveillance footage on Nov. 6, 2021, showing a man spraying a homeless person in the face with pepper spray or bear spray. | Source: San Francisco Public Defender’s Office

The April beating began when Carmignani confronted Doty, who was camped near his home in the Marina District, and demanded that he leave the area. Doty responded by striking and chasing Carmignani with the metal pipe.

The case grabbed national headlines and was held up as an example of lawlessness on the streets of San Francisco until it was revealed that Carmignani may have sprayed Doty with a can of pepper or bear spray before he was hit with the pipe.

The defense later revealed that a police investigator had identified a series of some eight bear or pepper spray attacks in or near the Marina District that it deemed possibly related to the case.

Doty’s trial is expected to continue Wednesday morning, when the defense will begin calling its own witnesses.

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

Filed Under