JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (AP/WJHL) – The attorney for an East Tennessee State University student who disrupted an on-campus Black Lives Matter rally while wearing a gorilla mask and carrying around a rope and bananas says his client regrets his actions and was not trying to intimidate anyone.
News outlets report that 18-year-old freshman Tristan Rettke appeared in court for the first time Thursday after being charged with one felony count of civil rights intimidation. A conviction on that charge carries two to four years in prison.
According to the report, when police arrived they saw Rettke wearing blue jean overalls, a white T-shirt and a black gorilla mask.
Police said Rettke had a rope and bananas, which he was holding out to the students that were protesting.
Rettke was then identified, detained and taken to the Public Safety Office.
According to the report, Rettke said a couple of days ago he saw on Yik Yak — a social media site — that a Black Lives Matter event was happening in the Free Speech area of Borchuck Plaza.
Rettke told police he then went to the store Tuesday, where he bought a rope to tie a bunch of bananas to, and also purchased a gorilla mask.
Rettke was charged with civil rights intimidation after discussion by public safety supervisors, campus administration and the District Attorney General’s office.
Attorney Patrick Denton said in a statement Thursday that Rettke was exercising his freedom of speech and did not intimidate anyone.
Rettke told police he wore the costume at Wednesday’s rally in order to provoke the activists.
Rettke is free on a $10,000 bond while his case is pending.