‘Inciting to Riot’ and Other Charges Against U. of Tennessee Student Dropped

January 21, 2014

A county court judge has dropped three of four charges brought against University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) student Cole Philip Montalvo last November after he rode his bike within a coned perimeter to question a visiting controversial preacher on campus. Though video footage shows that Montalvo remained several yards away from the visitor throughout the encounter and attempted only to speak with her, Montalvo was charged with inciting to riot, disorderly conduct, obstruction of justice, and resisting arrest.

In dismissing the first three charges, Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Gary Starnes noted that there was no evidence of several necessary components of the charges. The Times Free Press reported:

One component of disorderly conduct, for example, is creating a hazardous condition.

“I do not feel there was any hazardous condition,” Starnes said. “There also, in this case, was not a properly defined perimeter. It apparently was just put up. There were no signs anywhere.”


Montalvo was calm, didn’t yell at or threaten the preacher. He had only just crossed over the perimeter and was 20 to 25 feet away from the preacher before he was arrested … .

While Montalvo should never have been arrested in the first place, it is reassuring to see a judge quickly recognize that these three charges are unfounded. As Franklin Chancey, Montalvo’s attorney, remarked, “His intent was to be engaged in a civil debate.” That intent was clear and Montalvo never posed any danger to the visiting speaker or encouraged others to take action against her.

A grand jury will assess the remaining charge: resisting arrest. FIRE will keep an eye out for updates on Montalvo’s case.

Image: University of Tennessee at Chattanooga sign – Eric Baxter