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UPDATE: Gorilla-masked ETSU student gets Nov. 9 court date, released on $10K bond

Becky Campbell • Updated Sep 29, 2016 at 7:12 PM

The attorney for an East Tennessee State University student accused of trying to intimidate Black Lives Matter demonstrators on campus said Thursday night that Tristan Rettke “did not intimidate or attempt to intimidate anyone.”

Rettke appeared earlier Thursday in Washington County General Sessions Court with his attorney, Patrick Denton. 

After seeing information about a Black Lives Matter rally on a social media app, Rettke went to a store to buy rope to tie to bananas "in an attempt to provoke" protestors at the event, according to a court document. Rettke, 18, 1193 Jack Vest Drive, Apt. 542, Johnson City, also saw a gorilla mask at the store and decided to buy it as well, according to an arrest warrant charging him with civil rights intimidation in the Wednesday incident. 

Judge Robert Lincoln arraigned Rettke and set the case for a status hearing Nov. 9.

In a statement released Thursday evening, Denton said “Mr. Rettke deeply regrets the unfortunate events leading up to his arrest yesterday and understands the negative perception of his speech and actions. 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.”

Denton’s statement continues, “That being said, despite what many may feel was objectionable behavior, Mr. Rettke has the same Free Speech protections as those in the 'Black Lives Matter' movement.

“Above all, he did not intimidate or attempt to intimidate anyone during this incident. Accordingly, we look forward to defending his rights in a court of law. He asks for privacy and space for his family during this difficult and emotionally-trying time."

Rettke, an ETSU freshman, showed up at the rally barefoot, wearing overalls and a gorilla mask and toting bananas and rope. After his arrest, he told police he had hoped to provoke the Black Lives Matter demonstrators.

Rettke also carried with him a burlap sack that had a Confederate battle flag and marijuana leaf on it. He told officers he bought the attire and items after learning about it on the social media site Yik Yak.

ETSU police responded to Borchuck Plaza after getting a call about someone causing a problem at the peaceful Black Lives Matter protest.

The encounter between Rettke and police was caught on camera as he was being detained. An officer walked Rettke over to a bench nearby and made him take off the mask.

Saying Rettke's actions "go against the values of our university where people come first and all are treated with dignity and respect," the university placed Rettke on interim suspension. An internal student-conduct investigation was underway.

Later in a news conference, ETSU President Brian Noland praised the Black Lives Matter demonstrators for their peaceful rally and handling of the disruption. He said he'd been in contact with many of those students through their academic careers at ETSU and was proud they reacted as such. Wednesday evening, ETSU conducted a community dialogue conversation in the D.P. Culp Center’s Martha Street Culp Auditorium.

Rettke is free on a $10,000 bond while his case is pending. The statute under which Rettke is charged states the civil rights violation he allegedly committed is a Class D felony.  A conviction on that charge carries two to four years in prison.

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Reported earlier:

An East Tennessee State University student arrested after wearing a gorilla mask and taking bananas and rope to provoke students in a campus Black Lives Matter demonstration was released from jail on bond early this morning and arraigned this afternoon in Sessions Court.

Tristan Rettke was charged with civil rights intimidation following the incident on the Borchuck Plaza in front of a fountain dedicated to the first African-Americans to attend ETSU post-segregation. He was released from the Washington County Detention Center on $10,000 bond about 12:30 a.m. today.

In a 1:30 p.m. hearing, he was arraigned, and Judge Robert Lincoln set a preliminary hearing for Nov. 9. Rettke had hired local attorney Patrick Denton to represent him.

Rettke, an ETSU freshman, showed up at the rally barefoot, wearing overalls and a gorilla mask and toting bananas and rope. After his arrest, he told police he had hoped to provoke the Black Lives Matter demonstrators. Rettke also carried with him a burlap sack that had a Confederate battle flag and marijuana leaf on it. He told officers he bought the attire and items after learning about it on the social media site Yik Yak.

Saying Rettke's actions "go against the values of our university where people come first and all are treated with dignity and respect," the university placed Rettke on interim suspension. An internal student-conduct investigation was underway.

Later in a news conference, ETSU President Brian Noland praised the Black Lives Matter demonstrators for their peaceful rally and handling of the disruption. He'd been in contact with many of those students through their academic careers at ETSU and was proud they reacted as such. Wednesday evening, ETSU conducted a community dialogue conversation in the D.P. Culp Center’s Martha Street Culp Auditorium.

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