by Ed O’Keefe · November 9, 2017
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — A man who allegedly assaulted Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), breaking at least six of his ribs, pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge Thursday and faces the possibility of much more serious federal and state felony charges as investigations continue.
A pretrial conference was set for Nov. 30 for Rene Boucher, 59, who allegedly attacked Paul in the senator’s yard on Friday.
The arraignment in Warren County District Court lasted just two minutes, as he waived a formal reading of his rights. The retired anesthesiologist appeared in a suit with his attorney.
Warren County Attorney Amy Milliken said Boucher faces a possible 12-month sentence and $500 fine for fourth-degree assault, but the prosecutor also noted that the Kentucky State Police and FBI continue to investigate more serious charges.
Rene Boucher, center, appears in court for an arraignment hearing with his attorney Matt Baker, left, on Thursday. (Austin Anthony/DailyNews/AP)
Milliken said her office has not spoken directly to Paul and is instead relating information about the case to him through the FBI.
Fourth-degree assault is the most serious charge prosecuted by the Warren County Attorney.
If more serious state charges are brought against Boucher, they would be prosecuted by Commonwealth’s Attorney Christopher T. Cohron.
Stephanie Collins, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Louisville, said Thursday morning there was no update on a potential federal prosecution of Boucher.
Boucher was released Saturday on $7,500 bond and ordered to stay at least 1,000 feet away from Paul, his family and his offices, or at least 200 feet away if he decides to go to his home next door to the senator.
Matthew J. Baker, Boucher’s attorney, said that his client had not been home in recent days since the incident.
After the court hearing, Baker told reporters that the incident “was unequivocally not about politics.”
The potential for federal charges are “a concern. I hope that doesn’t happen,” he said. But based on his research and understanding of the case, he does not think federal charges will be warranted.
Baker said “he was not, absolutely not,” in reference to whether Boucher was intoxicated or under the influence.
Asked if Paul was blameless in the incident, Baker said, “I’m still investigating that. I haven’t talked to the senator about that.”
“We wish him a speedy recovery,” Baker added.
Earlier in the week, Baker had characterized the incident as “a very regrettable dispute between two neighbors over a matter that most people would regard as trivial.”
News reports have since suggested that the two neighbors sparred over long-standing issues regarding their lawns or other neighborhood matters.
But Doug Stafford, a senior adviser to Paul, on Thursday disputed Boucher and Baker’s characterization of the incident.
The senator “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 in a statement. “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 blindside, violent attack by a disturbed person. Anyone claiming otherwise is simply uninformed or seeking media attention.”
Milliken told reporters that state and federal authorities are still investigating the incident.
She refused to comment on Boucher’s motive, saying, “I don’t comment on cases.” But when asked whether she disputes Boucher’s purported motive, she added: “I’ll let that play out in court.”
She also would not comment on whether Boucher was intoxicated or otherwise under the influence but said no tests have been ordered.
Boucher has no criminal history, and prosecutors are not aware of any previous incident between Boucher and Paul, Milliken said.
The courtroom was packed for the arraignment with out-of-town reporters there to see for the first time the man who allegedly attacked Kentucky’s junior senator, who also ran unsuccessfully for president in 2016.
The scene was so out of the norm for locals that the judge and prosecutor both pulled out their cellphones to take pictures of the large crowd, marveling that they’d never seen the courtroom so full and possibly never will again.
Boucher’s motive for the attack remains unclear and is mystifying to many local residents.
When asked about a motive multiple times by a reporter at his office following the court proceeding Thursday morning, Boucher’s attorney repeatedly referenced news reports quoting neighbors and others who suggested the motive is grounded in a property dispute. Baker said these claims were more “on target” than suggestions that the attack was politically motivated. Baker ignored multiple requests to explain how a property dispute could escalate into such as violent attack.
A political motivation would drastically increase the likelihood of federal charges against Boucher, due to a federal law that makes it a crime to assault a congressman “on account of the performance of official duties.” That crime comes with a possible sentence of eight years — 20 if a weapon is involved — vs. the 12-month sentence and $500 fine Boucher faces.
According to Baker, Paul has retained personal injury lawyer Thomas N. Kerrick of the Kerrick Bachert firm in Bowling Green. Baker cut off an interview at his office following the court proceeding Thursday, citing a need to contact Kerrick. A message left at Kerrick’s office had not been returned as of late Thursday morning, and a receptionist said the attorney was traveling.
Boucher often frequented Spencer’s Coffee, a popular spot on the square in Bowling Green, said barista Ben Fox-Ezell, 29, of Auburn, Ky. Boucher’s habit of wearing a beret and ascot made him conspicuous, Fox-Ezell said. Boucher often brought a chessboard and played with a friend.
“He’s always really nice and super soft-spoken,” said Fox-Ezell, who added that while Boucher used to talk with staff and customers, he never heard Boucher discuss politics.
“I can’t imagine that [politics] had anything to do with it, personally,” said the barista. “In a gated community like that, I think it was probably something pretty trivial that built up after a long-standing feud and reached a boiling point.”
Dominic Lanphier, 51, of Bowling Green and a mathematics professor at Western Kentucky University, agreed. Nonetheless, Lanphier, who does not know either man, said it is “peculiar” that the reported details of the attack have shifted from Paul suffering only minor injuries, to revelations that he has several broken ribs and is unable to travel to Washington.
“It’s one of those things that I think you only get the whole story as it leaks out bit by bit,” Lanphier said.
O’Keefe reported from Washington.