A couple accused of painting over a “Black Lives Matter” mural on a street in Martinez, California, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to hate-crime charges that were described by their attorney as “outrageous.”
Nichole Anderson, 42, and David Nelson, 53, were charged with three misdemeanor offenses, including vandalism and the hate-crime violation, after video taken over the July 4 weekend showed her using a roller to cover the message with black paint while he decried the police-brutality narrative as a “leftist lie.”
Bilal Essayli, a Newport Beach attorney working with the Center for American Liberty, accused Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton of political bias, noting that her 2018 campaign was backed by the California Justice & Public Safety PAC, which was funded by left-wing billionaire George Soros.
“We think the charges here frankly are outrageous, that a highly politicized DA who was funded by George Soros would categorize anyone who disagrees with the radical Black Lives Matter organization as hateful or racist and charge them, use the actual criminal justice system to charge them, with a hate crime,” Mr. Essayli told reporters after the hearing.
He said the couple, who are domestic partners, were expressing their political views, just like those who painted the message.
“The California hate crime law has never been used to criminalize political speech,” said Mr. Essayli in a statement. “This is a dangerous precedent and proves that the Contra Costa District Attorney is a radical leftist, not an impartial administrator of justice.”
The “Black Lives Matter” mural was completed July 4 on the street in front of the Wakefield Taylor Courthouse, and those who did the painting obtained a permit first, although the center accused the city of “bypassing standard permitting procedures.”
“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 Mr. Essayli.
Ms. Becton had no immediate public comment, but in a July 7 statement, she said that the mural was “a peaceful and powerful way to communicate the importance of Black lives in Contra Costa County and the country.”
“We must address the root and byproduct of systemic racism in our country,” said Ms. Becton. “The Black Lives Matter movement is an important civil rights cause that deserves all of our attention.”
Ms. Anderson and Mr. Nelson face up to a year in jail if convicted, according to the center, which was founded by San Francisco lawyer Harmeet K. Dhillon, a Republican national committeewoman.
“The selective prosecution and indeed persecution of Nichole and David, with the baseless piled-on ‘hate crime’ enhancements, is a violation of the First Amendment and of the civil rights of this couple,” said Ms. Dhillon in a statement, “and we intend to vigorously contest the prosecution and ultimately hold the district attorney accountable for this abuse of power.”
A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 13 to set a date for a jury trial, said the center.
In recent years, Mr. Soros has funded more than two dozen progressive candidates for district attorney as part of an effort to overhaul the criminal-justice system by, for example, reducing incarceration time, eliminating cash bail, and ending “stop and frisk” policies.