From his hospital bed, Charles Eugene Ferris told investigators a wild tale of being hired to protect a wealthy “asset” from flying bullets during a suspicious encounter with a shadowy figure in the northern Arkansas woods.
In reality, officials say, the 50-year-old got hurt because he and his neighbor, Christopher Hicks, 36, were drinking and decided to take turns shooting each other while wearing a bulletproof vest.
The divergent stories were related to law enforcement late on Sunday night, after authorities in the Ozarks community of Rogers, Ark., got a call about an incoherent man in a bulletproof vest who had reportedly been shot multiple times at a nearby state park. A deputy headed to the hospital and found Ferris sitting on his bed in a hospital gown. According to an affidavit from the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, he had a red mark on the upper left side of his chest. Otherwise, he appeared unharmed.
Naturally, the deputy wanted to know exactly how the man had gotten shot. After some initial reluctance, Ferris recounted an elaborate and fantastical yarn. He had been working in private security to make some extra money and help pay his bills, he said, and had met a man at a bar in the nearby city of Springdale, Ark., who needed protection. Ferris referred to the man as his “asset,” and told police he could not, and would not, divulge his mysterious client’s identity.
The secretive man had paid him $200 for his services, he claimed, according to the affidavit. At around 9 p.m. on Sunday, Ferris had gotten in a white Mercedes-Benz that the “asset” was driving, he said. They had driven together to a trailhead in Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area, a massive lakefront wooded expanse in Benton County. There, they found a blond-haired, blue-eyed man in a white suit.
Ferris and his clandestine “asset” got out of the car and started talking to the man, he told police. Just then, he said, a hail of bullets came from the thick woods. Someone standing at the edge of the forest was firing at them. Ferris said that he shielded his “asset” with his body and pushed him back into the car. In the process, he claimed, he was shot in the back five times.
Ferris shot back at the attacker with his .308-caliber rifle, getting hit in the chest with another round as he returned fire, he told police. Then, he jumped into the Mercedes, and he and his “asset” sped away. After the “asset” dropped him off at his car, Ferris dumped his guns at a friend’s house, he claimed. Then, he took himself to the hospital to see if he had been wounded. He refused to give the deputy his wife’s name, saying that he didn’t want her to know that he had been in a dangerous gunfight.
A short time later, she showed up at the hospital anyway, and the outlandish story immediately fell apart.
Leslie Ferris described a very different version of events, according to the affidavit. Her husband had been out on their back deck drinking with their neighbor on Sunday night when she heard a gun go off, she said. When she went outside to check what was happening, her husband had a red mark on his chest, but told her that he was fine. Later, though, he started complaining that it hurt, she told detectives. She had told him to go to the hospital and call her once he got there. But he never phoned, so she had decided to go check on him.
After detectives went back to Ferris and informed him that he had been busted by his wife, the man admitted that he made up a fake story to avoid getting his neighbor in trouble. Then, he told them the less dramatic truth: There was no gun battle, and his mild injury was just the result of two friends making the questionable decision to combine weapons and alcohol.
Like his wife had told detectives, Ferris had been drinking with Hicks behind their home on a secluded dirt road near the state park, he said. For reasons that remain unclear, Ferris was wearing a bulletproof vest. He encouraged Hicks to shoot him.
Hicks did just that. Using a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle, he fired at Ferris’s torso, the affidavit says. The vest successfully stopped the bullet, which hit the top left corner of Ferris’s chest, leaving behind the noticeable red mark.
Even though it had been his idea, Ferris was “pissed” about being shot and how much it hurt, he told authorities. When Hicks put on the vest to try it out, Ferris said, he unloaded all of the five remaining rounds into his neighbor’s back. None penetrated the vest, but the impact of the bullets left the younger man with bruises.
After telling officers the truth, Ferris was released from the hospital with only minor injuries, and officers headed to Hicks’s home to question him. Both men were subsequently arrested on suspicion of aggravated assault, a felony punishable by up to six years in prison, and ordered to have no contact with one another. They were released on $5,000 bond on Tuesday morning and have not yet been charged, according to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Neither could be reached for comment late Thursday night.