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West Palm Beach man arrested after smoke bomb outside Mar-a-Lago causes crash

Paul Rawls Jr. tells police he was angry with Trump administration because he didn't get stimulus check, affidavit says
Exterior of Mar-a-Lago Club in 2019
Posted at 3:29 PM, Mar 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-15 15:29:30-04

PALM BEACH, Fla. — A West Palm Beach man was arrested Sunday after tossing a smoke bomb outside former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club and causing a crash, police said.

Paul Rawls Jr., 38, is facing charges of criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.

According to a probable cause affidavit, surveillance video showed the driver of a Volkswagen toss a "smoking and smoldering device" out the window in front of Mar-a-Lago, where Trump has been living since leaving the White House.

The thick smoke emanating from the device caused a crash on South Ocean Boulevard.

Palm Beach police Detective Christopher Barber wrote that there were no injuries, although the crash caused more than $1,000 worth of damage to the vehicles involved.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office bomb squad was called and searched the area but did not find any additional devices.

Barber wrote in the affidavit that the Volkswagen seen on video was registered to Rawls. When Barber called to speak with Rawls about a traffic crash in Palm Beach, Rawls told him, "I know the real reason you want to talk to me."

Screen shot from probable cause affidavit of items found in Paul Rawls Jr.'s Volkswagen
These photographs, which were included in the probable cause affidavit for Paul Rawls Jr., shows the items found in his Volkswagen after his arrest.

Rawls later agreed to speak with Barber at the Palm Beach Police Department. Barber said Rawls interrupted him during the interview and said, "I know why I'm here. It's because I threw a smoke bomb. It's all on video."

Barber said Rawls spoke about his struggles since being discharged from the military, saying he was a combat veteran and Army Ranger.

"Rawls spoke of his financial struggles and distain (sic) for the former administration because he has not received his stimulus check from the government this weekend," Barber wrote.

During a search of Rawls' Volkswagen, police found more than a dozen other smoke bombs, six bottle rockets, four flares and a lighter, among other items.

Rawls appeared in court Monday, when a judge set his bond at $21,000. Upon his release, Rawls would remain on house arrest and would not be allowed to have any weapons.