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Friday, May 24, 2024

What a Bloody San Francisco Street Brawl Tells Us About the Age of Citizen Surveillance

But when Hathaway took on Doty’s case, she quickly learned some other things about Carmignani. A decade ago, he had been arrested for domestic violence involving his then wife, forcing him to resign from the fire commission after just a few months. (He pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor assault.) So when Hathaway saw Carmignani demand silence from his girlfriend, she thought, “Yeah, this guy maybe has something to hide.”

Doty pleaded not guilty to felony battery and assault charges. Then, in late April, on the eve of his preliminary hearing, prosecutors sent Hathaway a new batch of evidence, including a continuous stretch of footage from the laundromat cam. For the first time, Hathaway watched Carmignani’s initial approach to Doty, which occurred nine minutes before the start time of the clip Carmignani’s attorney had released.

That old clip had begun with Doty plucking a pole from a trash bin. In the new footage, Carmignani, wearing a Covid face mask, walks past a jumble of items on the sidewalk and pulls a tall black canister from his pocket, thumb trigger on top. Seconds later, Doty, with his red hat, scrambles into the frame with a jacket pulled over his head. As they face each other, Carmignani steps toward Doty, who quickly turns his back and moves away. Carmignani walks after him. There’s no audio, but the body language is telling: Doty’s on the defensive.

Courtesy of San Francisco Public Defender’s Office

The next surprise Hathaway came upon in the new batch of evidence was a bundle of police reports, detailing eight crimes from the prior year and a half. On all occasions, a male suspect had approached homeless people on Marina sidewalks and pepper-sprayed them. In the first case, in November 2021, there was even video evidence—from a Ring camera, right on Magnolia Street. When Hathaway played the clip, she saw a bulky guy stride up to a man lying on the sidewalk and spray him for a full five seconds, studiously aiming the chemical agent—designed to cause pain, burning, and temporary blindness—into the victim’s face and head as he rolls over and stands up. “I was like what? What?!” Hathaway recalls. “He focuses on the victim’s face. It’s just so gross.”

Courtesy of San Francisco Public Defender’s Office

Hathaway looked at the 2021 sprayer—sure-footed, bulky, Covid face mask, baseball cap. Then she looked at Carmignani as he approached Doty on April 5—sure-footed, bulky, face mask, baseball cap. “I was like, Jesus, that’s Carmignani. Like that’s exactly how he walks.” (In the press, Carmignani’s attorney denied it was him.)

In some of the other sprayings, witness statements bent toward a roughly similar script. A goateed white guy in his fifties, riding a bike, asked if an unhoused guy needed help before pepper-spraying, kicking, and punching him. A white guy, 6’1″ and some 220 pounds, with short, light brown hair, wearing a gray beanie, unzipped a man’s tent and maced him with a 10-inch canister, warning, “Get out of my town.” A white male, 40 to 50 years old, grayish hair, sprayed Ashley Buck and an unhoused man. In other spray attacks, suspect descriptions skewed younger: One involved a white or Hispanic male in his thirties riding a gray bicycle. Another was a white thirtysomething male on a skateboard.

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