Two people accused of defacing a Black Lives Matter mural on a Martinez street in July are scheduled to return to Contra Costa County Superior Court for a jury trial on hate crime and vandalism charges.
Attorneys for Nicole Claudia Anderson, 42, and David Richard Nelson, 53, made a brief appearance in court Tuesday. Anderson and Nelson were not present at the hearing.
Though the hearing itself lasted only a few minutes, a protest outside the Bray courthouse building where Tuesday’s hearing took place went on for over an hour, with one defender of the alleged mural defacers squaring off against protesters.
Two people were arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor battery, Martinez police Lt. Mike Estanol said.
About 60 protesters were outside the courthouse when Bilal Essayli, a Newport Beach-based attorney representing Anderson and Nelson, left the courthouse after the hearing and was surrounded by protesters as he tried to address reporters. Essayli eventually evaded protesters by going back into the courthouse, and left the building via a back door.
The protest was organized by Martizians for Black Lives, the group that requested the right to paint the BLM mural in front of the courthouse on July 4.
Protesters face off
After Essayli left the area, protesters got into an altercation with a man who was not immediately identified. That man argued with the members of the crowd for over half an hour.
“You guys are ruining the country with your liberal lies,” the man shouted out at the crowd, using a bullhorn. “You don’t support free speech — why don’t you go to China!”
Justin Gomez, a Martizians for Black Lives organizer, said, “It was good for protesters to stand in solidarity with Black community members.”
As for the counterprotester’s statements to the crowd, Gomez said, “It’s that kind of language that promotes racism.”
But things got testier after the counterproster appeared to have been pushed backward over a hedge, and later pushed down in the street in front of the courthouse. The counterprotester was escorted by Sheriff’s deputies to the county jail lobby.
Estanol said one of the protesters was arrested via citizen’s arrest for pushing the counterprotester to the ground; the counterprotester also was arrested, by citizen’s arrest, for allegedly spitting on a child at the protest.
Both were processed at the Martinez police station, cited for misdemeanor battery and released, Estanol said.
Marring the mural
Anderson and Nelson were recorded on video in July while trying to cover the freshly completed mural in front of the Wakefield Taylor Courthouse on Court Street in downtown Martinez.
In that video, Anderson is seen using a paint roller and black paint to cross out letters of the mural, saying such a mural “is not happening in my town.” Nelson was standing near Anderson, making a video of her painting over the mural, saying, “There is no oppression, there is no racism, it’s a leftist lie.” The couple appeared soon afterward on a conservative TV host’s program, where they were praised for their actions.
District Attorney Diana Becton’s office had charged Anderson and Nelson each with three misdemeanors — violation of civil rights, vandalism and possession of tools to commit vandalism or graffiti.
Essayli said that, unless the District Attorney’s Office drops the charges, he expects a jury trial in January to move ahead. He hopes his clients can get a fair trial.
Essayli, an attorney representing Anderson and Nelson, was hired by the Center for American Liberty, a conservative group that described its mission as fighting “against growing anti-free-speech and anti-civil liberties trends.”
The mural no longer exists, having been paved over as part of a street improvement project a few weeks ago.