There was a herd of 20 or so reporters on hand Thursday for the arraignment of the man charged with attacking U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, all wanting to know the same thing:
What motivated Rene Boucher to allegedly tackle Paul, breaking six of his ribs, as he got off a riding lawn mower?
They didn’t get a definitive answer.
Boucher’s attorney, Matthew J. Baker, declined to specify a reason for the attack, but he added credence to suggestions that the attack grew from a dispute over something much less weighty than, say, revising the federal tax code.
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Asked what motivated the attack, Baker cited a story published in the Courier Journal quoting Jim Skaggs, a neighbor of the two men, as suggesting that the dispute might have grown from accusations that Paul blew lawn clippings into Boucher’s yard.
Skaggs once led the local Republican Party and developed the community where the men live.
The newspaper quoted Skaggs as saying there had been earlier disagreements between Paul, a Republican, and Boucher over matters including yard clippings and who had responsibility to trim a tree limb on their property line.
“I think Mr. Skaggs’ analysis of the situation is fairly accurate,” Baker said. “My analysis would be consistent with his.”
Skaggs said in an interview for a separate story in the New York Times that Paul and Boucher had different ideas on property rights.
“I think it was a neighbor-to-neighbor thing. They just both had strong opinions, and a little different ones about what property rights mean,” Skaggs was quoted in that story.
The notion that differing views on property rights was behind the alleged attack is “probably on the target, but not exactly accurate,” Baker said.
A story on Western Kentucky University’s public radio station also lent weight to the notion that yard work played a role in the attack that has gotten nationwide attention.
The station quoted another neighbor, Alicia Stivers, as saying she was the first person to see Paul after the attack.
“He said that when he got up, Rene said something like, ‘I’ve been trying to sell my house for 10 years and your trees are in the way,’” Stivers told the radio station.
Baker said he had heard the report, but when asked whether it was accurate, he said he would have to talk to Stivers, the wife of U.S. District Judge Greg Stivers.
Baker said Boucher has tried to sell his house at times, but he doesn’t think it is listed now.
A statement issued after the court hearing from Doug Stafford, a senior adviser to Paul, ran counter to the notion that Paul and Boucher had a simmering disagreement over landscaping.
“Last week, Senator Paul was vigorously assaulted by someone in his neighborhood. This is a serious criminal matter involving serious injury, and is being handled by local and federal authorities,” Stafford said. “As to reports of a longstanding dispute with the attacker, the Pauls have had no conversations with him in many years. The first ‘conversation’ with the attacker came after Sen. Paul’s ribs were broken. This was not a ‘fight.’ It was a blind-side, violent attack by a disturbed person. Anyone claiming otherwise is simply uninformed or seeking media attention.”
Baker was vague about what might have caused the alleged attack, but he was adamant that politics played no role.
“It has zero to do with Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, anything like that,” Baker said. “It has to do with a disagreement between two neighbors.”
Baker entered a not-guilty plea for Boucher during a standard arraignment before District Judge Brent Potter that lasted no more than three minutes.
Boucher, a retired anesthesiologist, remained free on bond after the hearing. He kept his head down during part of the hearing and said only “Yes sir” when Potter asked him whether he understood that he could be charged if he violated the terms of his bond.
Those terms require Boucher to remain at a distance from Paul, among other things.
Boucher left the courthouse by a door where there were no reporters waiting for him.
Boucher, 59, is charged with fourth-degree assault, a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
Warren County Attorney Amy Milliken said there is a chance that the charges against Boucher could be enhanced as the FBI and Kentucky State Police continue their investigation. Baker said it’s a concern that federal charges could be added, but his research indicates that federal law doesn’t apply.
Milliken declined to comment on her understanding of what motivated the incident.
Baker did refer to one new development Thursday, saying Paul has hired a personal-injury lawyer in Bowling Green, Thomas Kerrrick, indicating a possible lawsuit.
Kerrick was out of the office after Boucher’s arraignment, and a staffer said she couldn’t confirm whether he represents Paul.
A physical attack on a U.S. senator is unusual, so the arraignment made for an unusual day in Warren Disrict Court, at least for the first few minutes.
More than 20 reporters packed into the courtroom, and about 80 people facing traffic infractions and other charges looked on, along with several jail inmates in orange jumpsuits.
Potter, the judge, even snapped a photo of the battery of TV cameras set up in the jury box with his cellphone before the hearing. “This is atypical, I’ll tell you that,” he told reporters.
Boucher has lived next door to Paul in an upscale, gated development in Bowling Green for more than 15 years.
Last Friday, he allegedly went into Paul’s yard and attacked him as Paul got off a riding lawnmower.
According to published reports and an arrest warrant, Boucher came up behind the senator and tackled him without warning. Paul was wearing hearing protection and didn’t hear Boucher approach, one neighbor said.
Earlier reports said Paul suffered five broken ribs. But Paul said Wednesday in a tweet that he has six broken ribs and that an X-ray showed a “pleural effusion,” a buildup of fluid between his lung and chest wall.
Paul hasn’t said what he thinks led to the attack.
On Wednesday, however, he tweeted a link to a story on the right-wing Breitbart site in which several neighbors said they disagreed that the attack was related to a landscaping dispute.
“The stories of a ‘landscaping dispute,’ or a dispute of any sort between Rand Paul and Rene Boucher are erroneous and unfounded,” a friend and neighbor named Travis Creed told Breitbart. “The reason for Mr. Boucher’s bizarre attack is known only to him.”
Several people quoted in the story described Paul and his family as great neighbors.