MARTINEZ — The Martinez couple accused of a hate crime and vandalism for painting over a Black Lives Matter mural outside of the county courthouse entered a not-guilty plea Tuesday morning, as their attorney condemned the hate crime charge as “outrageous.”
Nicole Anderson, 42, and David Nelson, 53, will not be back in court for months to fight the misdemeanor charges, but are planning to take their case to trial. Anderson and Nelson were the subject of a July 4 viral video, which allegedly showed Anderson painting over the first two letters of the block-long, yellow, city-sanctioned mural while Nelson encouraged her, telling onlookers they were “sick of this narrative” and that racism is a “leftist lie.”
The couple has retained Bill Essayli, a Corona-based defense attorney who in 2018 launched an unsuccessful run for the State Assembly as a Republican. He is representing them in conjunction with the Center for American Liberty, a Virginia-based nonprofit that is also suing Gov. Gavin Newsom to compel California to reopen schools.
Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse Tuesday, Essayli said the Anderson and Nelson painted over the mural because they disagreed with the Black Lives Matter movement, which Essayli called “anti-American,” and “anti-police.” The website at blacklivesmatter.com says it is dedicated to “creating a world free of anti-Blackness, where every Black person has the social, economic, and political power to thrive.”
Essayli dismissed Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton as a prosecutor “funded by George Soros” who was seeking to gain political points.
“We think the charges here frankly are outrageous … it’s something I’ve never seen as a former prosecutor, the law used in that matter,” Essayli said. “The fact that my clients disagree with (Black Lives Matter’s) mission is a problem for the DA and she is charging them with a hate crime.”
A spokesman for the DA’s office declined to respond to Essayli’s remarks. Last month, when the charges were filed, Becton issued a statement calling for unity. She said she received a barrage of death threats in the days after the filing and was widely condemned in right-wing media outlets, some of which falsely labeled the permitted mural as “graffiti.”
“The Black Lives Matter movement is an important civil rights cause that deserves all of our attention,” Becton said in the news release. “The mural … was a peaceful and powerful way to communicate the importance of Black lives in Contra Costa County and the country.”
But the hate crime charge has been controversial, even within Becton’s office. Several Contra Costa prosecutors have told this newspaper they disagreed with the filing, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of concern for reprisal. One called it an “illegal filing,” adding that only the vandalism count was provable.
“There are no facts justifying a hate-crime (charge),” the prosecutor said.
The mural — which was approved by the city of Martinez and organized by a group called Martizians for Black Lives — was promptly fixed and is still intact outside of the Wakefield Taylor Courthouse in Martinez. In the days surrounding the July 4 incident, someone spread racist fliers throughout the downtown area, and another person wrote “white lives matter” on the street in a different part of town.
Days later, a man was arrested on gun possession charges for allegedly brandishing a firearm at a group of people looking at the mural. On July 12, several hundred people turned out for a demonstration in support of Black Lives Matter.
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