A Martinez couple charged with a hate crime for defacing a Black Lives Matter mural last month pleaded not guilty Tuesday to three misdemeanor charges.
Nicole Anderson and David Nelson walked out of the Justice Wakefield Taylor Courthouse in Martinez with their defense attorney Bill Essayli, KTLA sister station KRON4 in San Francisco reports.
“We are going to set this matter for trial. We look forward to presenting our case to the jury,” Essayli said.
The criminal complaint filed by the Contra Costa County District Attorney accuses the couple of defacing the Black Lives Matter mural painted in front of the courthouse on the Fourth of July.
“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,” District Attorney Diana Becton said in announcing the charges.
The mural was sanctioned by the City of Martinez, and when the couple started painting over it with black paint, they were confronted by residents. “This is racist, what you’re doing,” one could be heard saying in video.
On Tuesday, Anderson and Nelson deferred all comments to Essayli, who disputes the District Attorney’s claim that his clients committed a violation of civil rights.
“Had she just charged vandalism, that would be a whole different issue,” Essayli said. “The fact that she charged it as vandalism and as a hate crime is really what makes this problematic. It’s a reach, it’s an overcharge.”
“In our view, it’s a political message, and the justice system should not be weaponized in that manner,” the attorney said.
The vandalism sparked protests that drew hundreds of demonstrators to the site of the mural, which has since been repainted.
Anderson and Nelson’s next court date is scheduled for Oct. 13.