MARTINEZ (CBS SF) -- A couple accused of painting over a large Black Lives Matter mural on a downtown Martinez street pleaded not guilty Tuesday to hate crime and other misdemeanor charges filed against them.
The Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office has charged 42-year-old Nichole Anderson and 53-year-old David Nelson, both Martinez residents, with three misdemeanor counts including a hate crime for their alleged actions over the July 4th holiday weekend when Anderson covered up letters of a Black Lives Matter mural with paint and Nelson directly aided in her alleged criminal conduct.
The incident was captured by witnesses on video that went viral after being posted to social media.
Outside the Martinez courthouse, the couple's attorney -- Bilal Essayli, whose Newport Beach-based firm was hired to defend the case by conservative nonprofit group the Center for American Liberty -- said he was looking forward to challenging the charges in court.
"We look forward to presenting our case to the jury," Essayli said. "We think the charges here, frankly, are outrageous. That a highly politicized DA who's funded by George Soros would categorize anyone who disagrees with the radical Black Lives Matter organization as hateful or racist...It's an overcharge in our view, it's a political message and the justice system should not be weaponized in that manner."
Essayli said Anderson and Nelson, who are domestic partners, were just expressing their political views.
"Just as peaceful protesters have the right to march and display their political views in a myriad of different ways, they have the same right to express their dissatisfaction and their disagreement with their tax dollars being used to sponsor a radical organization, Black Lives Matters," said Essayli.
Essayli said the District Attorney would have a difficult time approving the hate crime charge, and that the case was being motivated by politics not justice.
"This case is really about the city of Martinez using taxpayer dollars and taxpayer property to co-sponsor and endorse the Black Lives Matter organization, which is anti-police and it's anti-American," said Essayli.
Through a spokesperson, Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton declined to comment on Essayli's contentions.
When asked if the couple would still paint over the mural if they had to do it all over again, Essayli replied, "We're not gonna answer that question right now."
The temporary Black Lives Matter mural in front of the Wakefield Taylor Courthouse was painted on Saturday, July 4, after a local resident applied for a permit that was granted by the city.
More than 100 people -- all wearing masks and almost all showing concern for social distancing -- had helped paint the words over a five-hour period.
After the mural was completed, Nelson and Anderson arrived at the scene with paint supplies. Using black paint and a large paint roller, Anderson was videotaped painting over the yellow letters "B" and "L" in the word "Black."
"We must address the root and byproduct of systemic racism in our country. The Black Lives Matter movement is an important civil rights cause that deserves all of our attention," stated Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton in a press release at the time the charges were announced. "The mural completed last weekend was a peaceful and powerful way to communicate the importance of Black lives in Contra Costa County and the country. We must continue to elevate discussions and actually listen to one another in an effort to heal our community and country."
Anderson and Nelson will be back in court on October 13 to set a trial date.
Kiet Do contributed to this story.
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