Jury Acquits Unhoused San Francisco Man Who Defended Himself Against Death Threats and Bear Spray Attack

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San Francisco Hall of Justice – Photo by David M. Greenwald

Special to the Vanguard

San Francisco, CA – A San Francisco jury found Garret Doty, 25, not guilty of all three felony assault and battery charges for defending himself against death threats and a bear spray attack by Marina District resident Donald Carmignani on April 5, 2023.

Deputy Public Defender Kleigh Hathaway argued that Doty, who is unhoused and had no phone to call the police, was in fear for his life and fought back to protect himself.

Jurors heard testimony from 11 witnesses, reviewed chronological surveillance footage of the altercation, and rendered a verdict that Doty was not guilty.

The incident was widely reported at the time, as Carmignani’s attorneys released select video footage of the incident which did not include footage of how the altercation began.

Evidence and testimony later revealed that Carmignani first went after Doty with bear spray, where he also threatened to stab and kill him if he didn’t move his belongings in two hours.

When Carmignani left, Doty tried to move his belongings and also obtained a metal rod from a garbage bin for protection. Carmignani returned fifteen minutes later where he stood against a building and baited Doty to come closer before spraying him again and instigating the ensuing altercation.

“From the beginning, it was clear to me that Mr. Doty was acting in self defense against Mr. Carmignani, who not only had the audacity to attack Mr. Doty with bear spray and then threatened to stab and kill Mr. Doty, but also presented himself as unwilling to back down from a fight that he had started,” said Hathaway.

Hathaway added, “Self-defense can be fierce because the brain goes into survival mode, and that fear response is sadly heightened for unhoused people, like Mr. Doty, who live in constant exposure.”

The lead police investigator’s report of the Doty case included information about eight other pepper spray attacks on unhoused people in the neighborhood that were noted as “possibly related.”

Hathaway received these reports as part of the evidence turned over by the District Attorney’s Office. One report included a video of a man spraying a person who was sleeping on the sidewalk on Carmignani’s block of Magnolia Street in November 2021.

A neighbor testified that police obtained that video after he called 911 to assist the person who had been sprayed. Carmignani’s ex-mother-in-law also testified under subpoena that she had called police in May 2023 to identify the assailant in the video as her former son-in-law.

Carmignani did not testify in Doty’s trial, but he did testify during the preliminary hearing where he invoked the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination whenever he was questioned about any prior use of pepper or bear spray.

“I commend Mr. Doty’s defense team for boldly confronting the disinformation that was spread at the onset of this case,” said San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju. “So often our indigent clients are wrongly accused when they are actually the victims of violence and harassment because they do not have the social clout of those who may dehumanize them.”

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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