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Jury finds gorilla-masked ETSU student not guilty of civil rights intimidation

Becky Campbell • Jul 17, 2019 at 2:43 PM

A Washington County jury Wednesday acquitted a former East Tennessee State University student of civil rights intimidation charges resulting from his gorilla-masked appearance at a campus Black Lives Matter rally in 2016.

Tristan Rettke also was found not guilty of disorderly conduct, but the all-white jury did convict him of on the misdemeanor charge of disruption of a meeting.

Rettke showed up at the Sept. 26, 2016, rally where other students had gathered to display signs that said “Black Lives Matter” and other slogans used during a time when several encounters between police and black men across the nation ended in fatal shootings. One sign at the rally said “Remember Them” and had the names of 14 African-Americans who had deadly encounters with police in the months prior to the ETSU rally.

Rettke was was barefoot, wore a white T-shirt, overalls and a gorilla mask and carried a burlap sack emblazoned with a Confederate flag and marijuana leaf, rope and bananas. He offered the bananas to BLM participants and later in the video was seen kneeling down to tie the rope around the fruit. Then he dangled it in front of the protesters and later unfolded a piece of notebook paper with “Lives Matter” written on it.

Original Johnson City Press video of Rettke at the rally:

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