SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — A former San Francisco fire commissioner attacked homeless people with bear spray in the Marina neighborhood, according to attorneys who spoke in court Wednesday.

The defense attorneys spoke on behalf of a 24-year-old unsheltered man, Garret Allen Doty, who was released Thursday morning. Doty’s release follows former fire commissioner Don Carmignani’s refusal to participate in trial proceedings as he did not appear in court for Doty’s preliminary hearing on Thursday.

Doty is charged with assaulting Carmignani and accused of beating him with a metal pipe. The April 5 pipe beating was recorded on surveillance video footage obtained by KRON4.

A preliminary hearing is set for May.

New surveillance video footage recently surfaced, however, showing that 53-year-old Carmignani provoked the incident when he allegedly attacked Doty with bear spray, Doty’s defense attorneys said. Carmignani was hospitalized with major head injuries.

Doty’s public defender said a man matching Carmignani’s description is suspected of targeting homeless people in at least eight separate incidents since November of 2021, including some incidents in which bear spray was used as a weapon. Some of the people were attacked while sleeping or inside tents, according to the defense. Before the April attack, another unsheltered person was targeted in January just a block from Carmignani’s house.

Unsheltered people set up an encampment outside a former fire commissioner’s mother’s house in the Marina neighborhood. (Photo courtesy Samuel Ray of Colla & Ray LLC)

Doty was initially arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated battery with serious bodily injury, and assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury for the incident.

Who is the “victim?”

Prosecutors gave Doty’s public defender surveillance video on Monday showing the initial interaction between Doty and Carmignani. The video shows Carmignani walking up to Doty, spraying him with bear spray, and walking away, attorneys said in court Wednesday.

The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office told KRON4 on Wednesday afternoon that, in light of the new evidence, it is seeking to have charges against Doty dropped. The evidence shows that “Carmignani instigated the altercation with Doty, and may be involved in a series of unsolved bear spray assaults and a robbery against unhoused people in the Cow Hollow and Marina neighborhoods,” the Public Defender’s Office wrote.

A still image from a witness’ cellphone video shows Doty (right) wielding a metal pipe against Carmingnani (left). (Image courtesy Samuel Ray)

A witness told police that she heard Carmignani threaten to stab and kill Doty if he did not leave the area, and Doty reacted in self-defense, according to the public defender.

Carmignani previously told KRON4 the Doty was part of a group of three aggressive unsheltered people who refused to move. The former fire commissioner said he called 911 after seeing the trio’s encampment. The homeless people stayed in front of his mother’s house throughout the day, used drugs, and were “extremely aggressive” towards people who passed by, he said.

Carmignani wrote, “Both my mother and I called 911 to report that three homeless individuals had set up an encampment at the entryway to her residence. My family has had prior interactions with these individuals, who have made repeated threats of violence to my family members. As a result, my mother did not feel safe leaving her home. Neither SFPD nor any of the city’s various homeless service providers responded to our 911 calls that morning. Throughout that day, my mother and girlfriend informed me that these individuals were still in front of her house, had been openly consuming drugs, and had exhibited extremely aggressive behavior towards passersby.”

Carmignani said when he asked the people to leave later that day, Doty took out the pipe and assaulted him “countless” times. The pipe attack is seen in the video above. (Warning: Graphic video)

Carmignani was hospitalized with a skull fracture.

Now the former fire commissioner said he fears that the District Attorney’s Office will drop all charges against Doty, and instead paint Carmignani as the aggressor. No charges have been dropped. Doty’s preliminary hearing is slated for Thursday and Carmignani will be called in to testify about what happened in the Marina.

Carmignani’s attorney sent a statement to KRON4 on Monday night on his behalf. The statement wrote, “Unfortunately, we have been informed by the District Attorney’s Office that they have decided to dismiss the charges against Don Carmignani’s attacker, Garret Doty, and release him back onto city streets with impunity. According to the DA, the attack on Don was ‘self defense.’ The DA also informed us that Don may be prosecuted for discharging pepper spray. We strongly believe that rather than threatening Mr. Carmignani, they should focus on prosecuting the individual who has terrorized the Marina, and put Don in the hospital after brutally beating him with a metal rod.”

District Attorney Brooke Jenkins told reporters Wednesday that her office still considers Carmignani a “victim,” and charges are still being pursued against Doty.

Jenkins said Carmignani was supposed to be in court on Wednesday, but he failed to show up. If he’s a no-show again for Thursday’s preliminary hearing, the court will be required to release Doty from jail, Jenkins said.

City should protect San Francisco residents instead of violent drug users, Carmignani says

In January, a San Francisco art gallery owner was criminally charged after he sprayed an unsheltered woman with a hose for not moving away from his gallery in ritzy Jackson Square. Collier Gwin was recorded by a witness’ cellphone camera as he sprayed the woman on a chilly winter day and yelled, “Move! Move! Move!”

San Francisco city officials cannot legally force unsheltered men and women to move from public spaces, such as sidewalks. That’s because of a ruling made by a judge in favor of a lawsuit filed by homeless advocates.

Judge Donna Ryu’s ruling was made on December 23, 2022 in response to a lawsuit, Coalition on Homelessness v. City and County of San Francisco, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Ryu’s order prohibits San Francisco from enforcing “sitting, lying, and sleeping laws” laws against “involuntarily homeless individuals” as long as the number of people experiencing homelessness exceeds the number of available shelter beds.

Shortly after he was attacked, Carmignani told KRON4 that Doty and Doty’s friends are “known criminals with a well-documented history of drug use, harassment of residents, and vandalism in the Marina. One of my attackers was seen near the scene of the attack, wearing my hat as a trophy, which fell off my head. This is unacceptable.”

Carmignani said he is a lifelong Marina District resident, and he believes the city needs to protect the safety of its residents over violent drug users.

He wrote, “I firmly believe that the city needs to promote the safety of its law-abiding citizens over those who chose to do drugs and commit violent acts in our streets. I am hopeful that this unfortunate incident will lead to policy changes to better protect the interests of San Francisco residents.”

More bear spray attacks against people living on San Francisco streets

The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office listed the following eight incidents of an assailant bear-spraying unhoused people in the Cow Hollow and Marina Districts. The suspect’s identity has not been confirmed in any of these incidents, except the April 5 incident, which involved Carmignani.

  • Nov. 6, 2021: An assailant bear sprayed an unsheltered person on Magnolia Street while the person was sleeping.
  • October 13, 2022: An assailant bear sprayed an unhoused person in the face at Webster and Union.
  • October 24, 2022: An assailant bear sprayed two homeless people who were sitting on a bench at Buchanan and Greenwich.
  • Nov. 10, 2022: An assailant bear sprayed two homeless people at Union and Fillmore, including one person who was sleeping.
  • Nov. 11, 2022: An assailant bear sprayed a person who was sleeping in a tent at Lombard and Pierce. The assailant unzipped tent and bear sprayed into it and said “Get out of my town.”
  • Nov. 24, 2022: An assailant verbally threatened an unhoused person on the 2100 block of Van Ness Avenue and bear sprayed him a few minutes later.
  • Dec. 7, 2022: An assailant bear sprayed an unhoused person in the face at Lombard and Broderick.
  • Jan. 6, 2023: An assailant bear sprayed a homeless man and woman, took the woman’s wallet, her cellphone and earrings, and threw the duo’s dog to the ground.
  • April 5, 2023: Carmignani allegedly bear sprayed a 24-year-old homeless man, Garret Doty, near the intersection of Laguna and Magnolia streets.