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Former San Francisco city official attacked homeless person with bear spray minutes prior to metal pipe attack, public defender says

<i>Courtesy San Francisco Public Defender's Office</i><br/>A still from a November 2021 video shows an unidentified assailant who comes upon a sleeping homeless person on the sidewalk and bear sprays them in the face for several seconds before walking away
Courtesy San Francisco Public Defender's Office
A still from a November 2021 video shows an unidentified assailant who comes upon a sleeping homeless person on the sidewalk and bear sprays them in the face for several seconds before walking away

By Taylor Romine, Cheri Mossburg and Veronica Miracle, CNN

The suspect accused of using a metal pipe to attack a former San Francisco fire department official was released from custody Thursday and is to appear in court for a preliminary hearing in late May.

Prosecutors say former San Francisco Fire Department Commissioner Don Carmignani sustained serious injuries after being attacked in early April by a suspect with a metal pipe outside of his mother’s home in San Francisco. Carmignani was unable to testify in Thursday’s preliminary hearing as a result, according to prosecutors.

The judge overseeing the case granted the prosecution’s request to postpone the hearing until May 23 and released the suspect, Garret Doty, who San Francisco police booked on charges of assault with a deadly weapon, from jail.

Kleigh Hathaway, Doty’s public defender, claims her client was not the aggressor in the incident but rather was protecting himself from the former fire official, who she says has targeted several homeless people with bear spray, including Doty.

Hathaway also released surveillance video that she said showed Carmignani attacking Doty with bear spray minutes before Carmignani was attacked with the metal pipe.

On April 5, Carmignani called 911 to report three homeless people in an encampment outside his mother’s home in the city’s affluent Marina neighborhood, he told CNN in a statement.

“That evening, I arrived at my Mother’s house and asked these individuals to leave,” Carmignani said in the statement. “The incident culminated with one of the individuals producing a piece of metal pipe and striking me several times on the head.”

Carmignani was hospitalized and underwent emergency surgery, his statement said.

Carmignani’s attorney Samuel Ray said in a statement that the San Francisco Police Department did not respond to the morning call about the people camped in front of his client’s home, and that “no one from SFPD or the DA’s office ever interviewed, or attempted to interview Don about his version of events.”

CNN has asked SFPD about Ray’s allegation. The district attorney says the SFPD has made multiple requests for an interview.

Other homeless victims, public defender says

Video taken from outside a gas station — shared by Camignani’s attorney — appears to show the former fire official attempting to defend himself while being struck by a man wielding a metal pole. The video does not show the moments before the altercation.

A separate video, also provided by Carmignani’s attorney and which appears to be taken from a nearby building, shows the former city official running down the street with Doty close on his heels, swinging the rod at Carmignani’s head as he flees.

Doty’s public defender told reporters Wednesday this case is one of self-defense, in part because she says there appears to be a repeated pattern of someone with Carmignani’s description allegedly attacking homeless people with bear spray in a four block span of his home between November 2021 and January 2023, based on police reports given to her by the DA’s office and police.

“In all of them, the victims are not housed, the victims are either asleep in their tents, sitting on a bench, minding their own business,” Hathaway said, citing police reports regarding eight separate attacks on homeless people that were included in the discovery evidence she received. “Fortunately, one of them was caught on video.”

CNN has requested but has not yet received the police reports.

Carmignani has denied that he is the person in the videos of the bear spray attacks and says he did not commit any of the attacks.

A copy of the November 2021 video provided by the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office shows what appears to be a homeless man asleep outside on a sidewalk. According to Hathaway, the video was recorded on the same street as Carmignani’s residence.

“He walks up and he sprays with a massive can of bear spray — the same weapon used in the Doty incident — he sprays this bear spray at the homeless. Not just passing by but focusing on the victim’s face for at least a few seconds and then he walks away,” she says.

“This man, who is described as 6-feet, 6-foot-1, 280, 300 pounds, gray hair, brown hair. Very similar, matching, what Mr. Carmignani looks like,” she said.

“I am confident that my client knew of his (Carmignani’s) prior violence,” Hathaway said, describing video from April 5 that appears to show the initial confrontation between Carmignani and her client. In that video, Hathaway says, Doty is seen running away and the “first thing” he does is duck and cover his head with this coat, “implying he knows and has been subjected to the violence of the bear spray in prior incidents.”

Asked why Carmignani had not been charged in connection with the assaults on homeless people, San Francisco District Attorney Brooks Jenkins told reporters Wednesday, “Nothing has been submitted to our office from the police with respect to asking to look at anything for charging purposes.”

Jenkins indicated that she had viewed a video but that “right now it’s simply an allegation of who it is” and that more investigation was needed.

Jenkins added that the DA’s office’s primary focus would remain on the April 5 incident. “I am concerned about the incident which brings us into court today” she said. “So that specific incident and what took place at that time that is what is mainly relevant at this point.”

Carmignani has not yet provided an interview with San Francisco police according to Jenkins, although he did a sit-down interview with CNN affiliate KPIX.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Laura Studley and Jeffrey Kopp contributed to this report.

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