The former East Tennessee State University student who wore a gorilla mask and disrupted a Black Lives Matter protest on campus while carrying bananas and a rope has been indicted by a grand jury.
The Associated Press reports that Assistant District Attorney Erin McArdle confirmed that Tristan Rettke of Hendersonville, Tenn., was indicted by a Washington County grand jury on two counts of civil rights intimidation and two counts of disorderly conduct and disrupting a meeting.
As previously reported on The Root, Rettke showed up to the on-campus protest wearing overalls and gorilla mask. He carried bananas, a rope and a Confederate flag. He told Johnson City, Tenn., police that he used the items “to provoke the protesters.” Rettke reportedly dangled the bananas, tied with a rope, in people’s faces at the Sept. 28 protest.
AP reports that witnesses told the grand jury that Rettke used racial slurs, intimidated them and made them fearful.
From the Johnson City Press:
Thomas Madison, who was not part of the rally but stopped by on his way to a class, said he began videoing and asked Rettke what was his purpose for being there. On the video, Rettke can be heard saying in a muffled voice that he was there to support the protesters.
“He said, ‘I identify as a gorilla,’” Madison testified. “I took that as a reference to me being black. And I took him wearing a mask at a Black Lives Matter protest … the fact black people historically have been called monkeys.”
Madison also testified that he took the bananas being tied up with rope as “a very serious threat … when you come offer me a banana this close to my face, it’s calling me a monkey, and I’m not a monkey,” he said, demonstrating that Rettke was just inches from Madison’s face during the encounter.
Jaylen Grimes testified Rettke wrapped a rope around the bananas over and over, then pulled the ends of the rope, which sliced through the fruit. Grimes said he viewed the rope as a noose and took it as a reference to the historical lynching of African Americans.
Patrick Denton, Rettke’s attorney, says that his client was exercising his freedom of speech and didn’t intimidate anyone.