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Court documents give new details about the yard dispute that left Rand Paul with 6 broken ribs

A neighbor turned violent after the senator allegedly tormented him with an “unsightly” pile of debris.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) Visits Diner In Las Vegas Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

The neighbor who tackled Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul in November was infuriated by the lawmaker’s habit of stacking lawn debris near the line between their two properties.

New court documents, first obtained by the Bowling Green Daily News, reveal more background about the bizarre assault on Paul in the gated community in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The attack left the senator with six broken ribs and a bruised lung.

Rene Boucher, a 60-year-old retired doctor, pleaded guilty in March to one count of assaulting a member of Congress and is expected to be sentenced this Friday. Federal prosecutors have requested a 21-month prison sentence; Boucher’s attorneys have asked the court to consider probation.

In making the case, Boucher’s lawyers filed a 10-page memo that outlined the alleged events leading up to the ambush on Paul while he was doing yard work. They want to reiterate that the assault stemmed from a neighborly dispute, not a political fight. Paul’s neighbor claims the whole thing began with an “unsightly” pile of yard debris that he kept hauling away and even tried to incinerate — and that the lawmaker allegedly kept rebuilding.

Sen. Rand Paul’s office dismissed the characterization of an ongoing “yard dispute,” saying in a statement that any such description “justifies such violence and misses the point.”

“Before Senator Paul was violently attacked from behind, he had no conversations or discussions with the attacker,” Sergio Gor, the deputy chief of staff for Paul said in a statement. “There was no ’longstanding dispute.’ This description is untrue. It is impossible to have a dispute when no words of disagreement were ever spoken — neither immediately nor at any other time before the attack occurred. In the decade prior to the attack, Senator Paul had no contact with the attacker.”

Paul was mowing his lawn when a neighbor tackled him

Paul had reportedly just finished mowing his lawn on November 3 at his home in Rivergreen, an upscale gated community in Bowling Green, when Boucher tackled him from behind, “forcing him to the ground and causing pain,” reported NBC News, which obtained the criminal complaint.

Paul was wearing protective earmuffs to muffle the sound of the mower, two sources told the New York Times, which prevented him from hearing Boucher’s approach. (Paul told Us Weekly in a 2015 interview that he loved working in his yard and that “mowing the lawn is very therapeutic for me.”)

NBC News reported that Paul managed to get Boucher off him, after which the two “exchanged words.”

State police said Paul had sustained “minor injuries” in the first reports after the incident. But in the weekend after the attack, Paul’s staffer, Doug Stafford, said in a statement to the Washington Post that the fractured ribs — three of which were partly or completely cracked — had bruised at least one of Paul’s lungs.

The senator clarified his condition for the first time on November 8. In the tweet, Paul said he’d broken six ribs (it had originally been reported as five) and had a pleural effusion, which is a buildup of fluid in the lining around the lungs.

Paul returned to the Senate a little more than a week after Boucher’s assault. In January, he appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation and said he was in “a living hell” for weeks after the incident. “Couldn’t get out of bed without assistance,” he said. “Six broken ribs, damage to my lungs, two bouts of pneumonia. It was really a tough go of it.”

Why did Boucher attack Paul?

Boucher is a retired doctor who practiced as an anesthesiologist and pain specialist; his medical license expired in 2015. According to a Bowling Green Daily News report from 2005, Boucher also invented the Therm-a-Vest, a device that attaches by Velcro and heats up to help with chronic back pain. It was featured on QVC.

Rene Boucher.
Warren County Regional Jail via AP

The two men, who live next door to each other and previously worked together as doctors, may have argued about politics in the past. Jim Bullington, who served on the city commission and was acquainted with both Paul and Boucher, told the Washington Post that the men are political opposites and have had “heated discussions” about health care.

But Boucher’s attorney, as well as journalists’ interviews with neighbors, suggested even at the time that the motivation was more quotidian.

The lawyers’ recent memo backs up that narrative, building up a timeline of a festering dispute over lawn care that eventually erupted into violence.

Boucher snapped after Paul continued to stack a pile of brush and lawn debris near the property line between the two neighbors. According to the documents, the feud began in the summer of 2017, when Boucher clipped some maple tree branches that were extending onto his property.

Then in September 2017, Paul stacked a 10-foot-wide, 5-foot-high pile of limbs and shrubbery clippings just off Boucher’s property line. “Even though this debris was not on Dr. Boucher’s property, he viewed it as unsightly — as it was placed directly in his line of sight from his patio and the back door of his house,” the court filing said.

Boucher finally hauled the lawn detritus to the dump on October 10. But a few days later, Paul allegedly reconstructed the pile of debris in the same spot. Boucher took it away again, only to find more mounds of brush stacked in its place.

Boucher did battle with the pile again on November 2, setting fire to it and sustaining second-degree burns in the process. On November 3, the day of the assault, Paul was blowing leaves onto Boucher property. He was also allegedly rebuilding the stack of branches and yard waste.

“Rand Paul stepped away from his lawnmower, gathered several branches from an adjacent pile of trash and placed them in the exact location where the last pile had been burned just one day prior,” the filing read. “As Dr. Boucher has stated throughout, he lost his temper and tackled Rand Paul as Paul was carrying branches from another location on his property and placing them on the property line.”

Boucher claims he went to the homeowners association in the gated community to complain. He also denied that the ambush on Paul was politically motivated, which could carry far harsher penalties.

The memo matches with what Boucher told federal prosecutors in a court filing following his plea agreement earlier this year — that he’d “had enough” after he saw Paul stacking the debris near his property.

Boucher, according to neighbors, was a stickler when it came to his property. He paid professionals to tend to his yard, but Paul did his own landscaping. And it may not have been up to Boucher’s standards. “He had his yard sitting at a beautiful two-and-a-half, three inches thick, where Rand cuts it to the nub,” Bill Goodwin, a Bowling Green resident who knows both men, told GQ in November.

Paul, hobbyist mower that he is, also may not have been the most attentive at the post–yard work cleanup. Boucher fretted over Paul’s grass clippings that ended up in his yard, confronting the senator and complaining to the neighborhood association. “I've asked him and I've asked him and I've asked him,” Goodwin remembers Boucher complaining about the senator’s lawn etiquette. “How long can you sit there taking someone plucking a hair out of your nose?”

Either way, neighbors in the upscale neighborhood weren’t thrilled about how the incident brought scrutiny on their block. One person, talking to GQ, called the attacker and the victim “two little shits.”

Update: This post has been updated with a statement from Paul’s office.

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