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Jury finds homeless man not guilty in beating of ex-San Francisco official

Garret Doty walks down the steps outside the Hall of Justice.
Garret Doty leaves the Hall of Justice in May. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

A homeless man who argued that he beat a former San Francisco official with a metal pipe in self-defense was found not guilty of all charges Friday in a rebuke of the case filed by District Attorney Brooke Jenkins.

Garret Doty, 25, stood trial at the Hall of Justice on three counts of assault and battery for repeatedly striking Don Carmignani, 54, with the metal pipe April 5. The attack happened after Carmignani confronted Doty for camping outside his home in the Marina District, demanding he leave the area.

After deliberating for three days, jurors acquitted Doty of all three counts, as well as lesser assault and battery charges that he could have been convicted of.

Doty's public defender, Kleigh Hathaway, put her hand on Doty's arm as the not guilty verdicts came in. Speaking with reporters outside the courtroom, she described her reaction to the decision in one word: "relief."

"This was such a hard battle that I don't think should have been," Hathaway said. "The District Attorney's Office had so many opportunities to dismiss this case or even give Mr. Doty a settlement. But they didn't."

When Jenkins first charged Doty in April, she said her office sought justice for Carmignani and to "send the strongest message that violence like this is unacceptable.” She did not have much to say about the verdict.

"I would like to thank the jury for their service and respect their decision," Jenkins said in a statement.

The beating of Carmignani stoked fears about the state of the city and added to the perception that its street conditions were deteriorating and unsafe. But the case, which drew national attention, was complicated by revelations that Carmignani instigated the attack by spraying Doty with a can of pepper or bear spray. Carmignani did not testify in the trial.

When the trial began Dec. 7, prosecutor Kourtney Bell of the District Attorney’s Office argued that Doty attacked Carmignani out of revenge for spraying him. While acknowledging that the former city official, whose stint on the Fire Commission was cut short by a domestic violence arrest, was not an “angel,” Bell argued that Carmignani deserved justice. His case relied heavily on extensive video of the attack, which left Carmignani with a broken jaw, fractured skull and traumatic brain injury.

But Hathaway argued that Doty struck Carmignani in self-defense because he was afraid. Over the course of the six-day trial, she sought to paint Carmignani as a violent person who abused his ex-wife and had a drinking problem. She also described him as a vigilante who she alleged was responsible for a series of bear or pepper spray attacks on homeless people in the area.

Mike Brophy, a 50-year-old tech worker who sat on the jury, said jurors felt there were holes in the prosecution's case, including its decision to exclude audio content from body-worn camera footage recorded by an officer who arrested Doty.

Brophy said Doty appeared to be cooperative in the footage, bolstering the defense's argument that the attack was carried out in self-defense.

"There was some shoddy prosecution work done here," he said. "If the DA is trying to make a case for coming down hard on homeless violence, if that is in fact an issue, they've got to do it with a cleaner case than this."

Brophy called a November 2021 security video of a man spraying a sleeping homeless person with a can of pepper or bear spray "damning." Carmignani's mother-in-law testified during the trial that the perpetrator "looks like Don."

Brophy said the jury agreed that Carmignani was "just a reprehensible character."

"We were all convinced the initial belligerent here was Carmignani," Brophy said. "I really don't like the feeling of my city trying to be an apologist for a known belligerent, a known vigilante."

Carmignani's attorney, John Cox, has denied that his client was the perpetrator of the earlier bear or pepper spray attacks.

Reached Friday, Cox said that Carmignani was unhappy with the verdict.

"He is very disappointed in the District Attorney’s Office," Cox said. "In general their approach seemed not particularly focused on prosecuting the case."

Cox said prosecutors let the public defender drive the case instead of focusing the trial on what happened at the time of the incident.

While Doty was acquitted of all charges in the trial, he pleaded no contest Friday to a misdemeanor charge for violating a stay-away order requiring him to keep out of the Marina District after his initial arrest and release in the case.

He was jailed and spent the last eight months in custody pending trial, according to Hathaway. Doty, who faced up to seven or ten years in prison if convicted of all charges in the case, is now expected to be released Friday.

Hathaway said he plans to return to his family in Louisiana.

Michael Barba can be reached at mbarba@sfstandard.com