Carolina In My Mind: A Closer Look at Trent Garner’s Mugging Story

In which Sen. Garner learns that the biggest enemy of wild stories is fact-checking through public records.

Trent Garner (L) and Bob Ballinger, just before Garner began his fanciful testimony in support of SB 484.

If you are reading this, you are (almost by definition) the type of person who spends time on the internet. That being the case, you have likely already seen the recent viral video of State Sen. Stephanie Flowers (D-Pine Bluff) offering an impassioned counterargument to the people pushing a “stand your ground” bill in the Arkansas Senate. That Flowers’ comments got so much attention makes sense and was well deserved, no doubt about that.

One side effect of the attention that Flowers got, however, was that other parts of that hearing that might have otherwise drawn attention got lost in the noise. Most notably among these was Sen. Trent Garner (R-El Dorado) and his story of…um…being a cross between Charles Bronson and Jackie Chan1 when dealing with a would-be mugger.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s first take a look at exactly what Garner claimed happened as far as the altercation with the would-be mugger goes. (You can check the accuracy of this transcription here, starting at around 4:58).

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I served two tours in Afghanistan, was in many combat situations as a Special Forces Green Beret. I came back and went out with a couple of my buddies to have a good time. We went to a restaurant to have something to eat and hang out. One of my buddies was a 310-pound offensive lineman who played for a local Arena League team. Another of his buddies was a 250-pound linebacker, and then another Special Forces guy. We parked at the back part of a parking lot.
 
As we walked out, I got in a car that my buddy had driven, and I heard my 310-pounds [sic] friend’s voice quiver. This wasn’t a man who was scared of many things. I stepped out of the car and saw two gentlemen—one who had a gun on my friend—demanding money, demanding my friend do something. You could tell the situation, the tension, rose [sic] in the air.
 
I stepped in front of my friend and pulled out Twenty dollars out of my pocket and told the guy, “man, it’s all good. Calm down. It’s fine.”
 
The [car] door was open in such a way that I was able to hold the money so the man reached for it. When he did, I slammed the car door on his arm, breaking it. After that, I speared him like you see in football, lifted him up on my shoulder and put him in the ground, and I heard the [hand slaps table]. I didn’t know what it was. Only thing I saw after that was a gun on the ground. Me and that person went for that gun. He got to it first and took off running.
 
I chased him not realizing what had happened, but my buddy grabbed me and pulled me back and said, “Trent, you have been shot.” I noticed my back was wet from the blood coming down my backside.

As soon as he was done speaking, Garner bolted from his chair and away from the microphone. Sen. Alan Clark (R-Lonsdale) asked if Garner would take question, and Garner’s “I’m not taking any questions” response was picked up by one of the microphones.

Garner’s story was unclear as to the particular place and time that this allegedly happened. That was perhaps intentional, given how quickly he left the table and avoided questions. If you cross reference it with some other information, however, it gets a little easier. For instance, on Garner’s website, it says that he was part of Operation Medusa. We know that operation occurred between September 2 and September 17, 2006. Google tells us that Garner started college at UALR in 2008, and he started law school at U of A in 2011.

From public records, we can see that Garner lived in Jacksonville, AR, starting some time in early 2008. And we know that North Little Rock had an arena football team from 2000 to 2009. Based on all of this, one might assume that Garner’s described incident occurred somewhere in central Arkansas at some point between late 2006 and when he went to law school in 2011. However, FOIA requests to all law enforcement agencies that might possibly have responded to this incident turned up empty.

A broader public-records search, however, turned up a single-line entry for a Trent Chancey Garner with the address 2-4017 Room 125, Fort Bragg, NC 28310. Fort Bragg is, of course, the primary base for Army Special Forces, which seemed like a place that Garner might have been stationed after returning from Afghanistan but before returning to Arkansas.

I made the assumption that this incident, if it occurred, happened off base, which made nearby Fayetteville, NC, likely if Garner was at Fort Bragg. (There was an Arena league team in the area at the time, but that is irrelevant for reasons that you’ll see momentarily.) I contacted a reporter at the Fayetteville Observer to see if they knew anything about a reported shooting of Trent Garner between October 2006 and March 2008. The reporter responded:

I found this following crime log in our archives dated Aug. 12, 2007: 
BRAGG BOULEVARD
Trent Chancey Garner reported Friday that he was robbed and shot in the arm in the parking lot of Kagney’s nightclub at 944 Bragg Blvd. Other details were not given.

Bingo. A follow-up FOIA request was made to the Fayetteville (NC) Police Department, who provided this report of an incident occurring August 10, 2007. Unfortunately, under NC law, the narrative portion of a police report is not subject to release under the FOIA. That said, we do have the names of parties who were there, and we have some other details from which we can extrapolate, and those details call much Garner’s story into question. 2

First, Garner told the Arkansas Senate committee that there were four people (Garner, two football players, and “another Special Forces Guy”). The police report shows three people:

  • Trent Chancey Garner, 23, 560 Andover Rd., Fayetteville, NC 28311;
  • David Fredrickson, no age given3, 2916 Ivy Stone Court, Fayetteville, NC 28310;
  • John Andrew Ottinger, 23, 102 Arring Creek Rd., Enterprise, AL 36330.

I have been unable to locate David Fredrickson, but his address shows as being owned by another Special Forces soldier (Joshua Hernandez) at the time of this incident, and the house had been rented to at least one other Special Forces soldier that I was able to locate. So the odds that David Fredrickson, who doesn’t show up in any kind of search for that name as an Arena Football player, was a football player seems slim. (The odds that “David Frederickson” is a fake name that was given by someone at the scene is plausible, if only because it does not appear that the reporting officer looked at this person’s ID, because the actual street is “Iveystone,” not “Ivy Stone,” and no date of birth or age was noted on the report.)

I was able to locate John Ottinger, at least to the extent I can confirm that he’s a real person who now resides in the Fort Worth, TX area. At the time of this incident, he was a pilot for the Army, and it appears he was then-stationed at Fort Rucker in Alabama. (Attempts to reach Ottinger for comment were not returned prior to publication of this post.)

So…if we’re going by the police report, it is safe to say that there was no “310-pound offensive lineman who played for a local arena team” or “250-pound linebacker” present when Garner’s incident occurred.

Second, and directly related to the previous point, recall Garner’s story, in which he said that the mugger initially pulled a gun on one of the friends who was there with him. Had that happened, the friend would have been the victim of (at least) attempted robbery and assault. Yet, the police report lists only Garner as the victim of two crimes: aggravated assault and robbery. The other two men listed are only included as reporting parties, meaning that neither of them was the victim of a crime. It also makes one begin to wonder if those men were even there with Garner, or if they were witnesses who saw something happen and came over to check on Garner after the fact (which would be wildly different that Garner’s story, obviously.)

Third, Garner described the location as a restaurant where they were going to “have something to eat and hang out.” That’s a pretty liberal use of the word “restaurant.” The address on the police report is 944 Bragg Blvd., which matches the “Kagney’s” referenced by the newspaper. While it did apparently serve food to some extent, Kagney’s was a sketchy night club (since closed down) with a long history of fights and other violence. (An Army specialist was killed there in April 2008, for instance.) No one who was trying to give an accurate recount of what happened would refer to Kagney’s as a “restaurant.”

But–and this is a big “but”–it’s not clear that Garner was actually at Kagney’s. You see, Kagney’s was in the same building as Sharky’s Cabaret, and, well, I’ll just let a Yelp reviewer describe Sharky’s for you:

“It’s a dirty, grimy place filled with cheap dancers that double as prostitutes, and lots and lots of drugs.”

Sharky’s also served something close to food, though, based on that Yelp review, I can’t imagine it was something you would want to eat. Even so, no person would ever refer to Sharky’s as a “restaurant.” At least not if they were being honest about the situation. On the other hand, referring to it that way, while glossing over the actual location, is what someone would do if he was trying to hide the fact that the story he was telling actually took place at an absurdly seedy strip club.

Fourth, Garner made it sound like the whole incident took place some time around a normal time that people would go out to dinner (e.g., hours that “a restaurant” would normally be open). In fact, the police report shows that the call came in just after midnight on Friday morning, meaning Garner had been out very late on a Thursday night. A minor detail? Perhaps. But, again, ask yourself, why would Garner be vague about the details and location if he was regaling the Senate committee with an accurate recounting of a real incident?

Fifth, and certainly most interestingly, the police report specifically says nothing about a weapon being used. According to the Public Information Officer at the Fayetteville Police Department, this is because the officer who arrived on scene did not note the use of any weapons in the commission of the two crimes.

Obviously, this is at odds with the Fayetteville Observer blurb, which stated that “Trent Chancey Garner reported Friday that was robbed and shot in the arm.” So, what gives? Well, remember, North Carolina public-records law prohibits the release of any police narrative or notes. It does not, however, prohibit the release of certain parts of 911 calls. So, according to another reporter at the Observer who spoke to us, the information that goes in those crime blurbs either comes from someone listening to a police radio scanner or from a summary of 911 calls.4 Meaning that, as the newspaper blurb notes, the “shooting” was apparently reported by Garner (or someone at the scene), whereas the police report is an objective evaluation of the facts as presented to the reporting officer.

Sixth, related to the shooting, Garner implied that he had been shot in the back, stating “my back was wet from the blood coming down my backside.” At best, assuming a shooting happened at all, Garner’s own statement on the 911 call was that he had been shot “in the arm.” Is it possible to be shot in the arm in a way that your back is soaked with blood despite you not realizing you’ve been shot? I suppose anything is possible. Does it seem plausible, though, that someone who has been in combat would not recognize the sound of a gun going off AND would be unaware that he had been shot in the arm to such a degree that the back of his shirt was “wet with blood”?

Seventh, Garner mentioned that they were “parked at the back part of a parking lot.” The call to police noted specifically that it was the “parking lot of Kagney’s Night Club.” Here’s what that looks like:

It’s not clear why Garner specifically mentioned being “at the back” of the parking lot, but it is clear, based on the scale in the lower right of that satellite photo, that no part of the parking lot is more than 100 feet from some part of the building. Even the furthest point at the back of the lot (near the top of the picture) is just over 100 feet from this entryway:

The only thing I can figure is that Garner referenced being “at the back” of that lot so that his story would sound like he was in a situation where no one was around who could help. You know…other than the three other people he claimed were with him, but who did nothing and weren’t referenced on the police report.

So…yeah. There are a lot of questions surrounding Garner’s story, and I reached out to him for information about the incident. At the very least, I wanted to see if he would tell me where and when it happened, and maybe answer a couple of the other questions I have. He received the email, and he opened it three times as of this writing–once around 7pm on an iPhone near Hamburg, AR, and twice today around 9am on an iPad, also near Hamburg–but he has not responded.

On some level, all of this is less important than the overall absurdity and insanity of what Garner was saying overall, and that is something we’ll get into in the next post. Yet, all of the above still strikes me as relevant because of the “trust me, I know what I’m talking about, and here’s a totally real thing that happened to me” tone that Garner took when telling his story. If you are going to condescendingly act like the expert on a subject, and you’re basing that expertise on something that you did, it is fair game for the rest of us to look at your claims and see if the incident ever even happened.


  1. Charlie Chan?

  2. Even moreso than the absurdity of some of his claims about the fight, I mean.

  3. Because no age was given, the Fayetteville PD software redacted this name, assuming he was a minor. This information was provided via a follow-up discussion with FPD.

  4. The 911 call for Garner’s incident is long gone. I asked.

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