JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (AP) — 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 regrets his actions and was not trying to intimidate anyone, his attorney said.
Freshman Tristan Rettke, 18, appeared in court for the first time Thursday after being charged with one felony count of civil rights intimidation, news outlets reported. A conviction on that charge carries two to four years in prison.
Attorney Patrick Denton said in a statement Thursday that Rettke was exercising his freedom of speech and did not intimidate anyone.
“Mr. Rettke deeply regrets the unfortunate events leading up to his arrest yesterday and understands the negative perception of his speech and actions,” Denton said. “He respects the rights of those in the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement to peacefully demonstrate in furtherance of their message in the spirit of the First Amendment.”
Rettke told investigators that he heard about Wednesday’s rally on social media and then purchased the attire and items in order to provoke the activists, police said.
The freshman arrived at the event masked, barefoot, wearing overalls and toting bananas and rope. He also carried a burlap sack that had a Confederate battle flag and marijuana leaf on it. He was taken away by university public safety officers.
Rettke is free on a $10,000 bond while his case is pending. University officials have condemned his actions and placed him on interim suspension.