Suspect in Zeldin Attack Is Arrested on Federal Charge

A man allegedly used a sharp weapon to confront Representative Lee Zeldin, the Republican candidate for governor of New York, on Thursday night was arrested for federal assaultofficials said.

The incident happened outside the Veterans of Foreign Affairs hall near Rochester, NY, where Mr. Zeldin was speaking in the first of a series of campaign stops over the weekend. A man, later identified by police as David G. Jakubonis, approached Mr. Zeldin with a pointed weapon that federal officials later described as a cluster of double-pointed keys.

Mr. Jakubonis pulled the candidate down before being dragged away by several people nearby, according to officials and video of the attack. Zeldin was not injured, a campaign representative said at the time.

On Saturday, Mr. Jakubonis, 43, of Fairport, NY, appeared in federal court in Rochester before Judge Marian W. Payson of the US Western District Court for the Western District of New York. He had was previously charged with attempted assault in the second degree, according to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, and was released without bail. Under state law, as of 2020, judges have been barred from bail on nonviolent charges with willful assault.

The federal charge – assaulting a member of Congress with a dangerous weapon – carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, according to officials. According to Barbara Burns, a spokeswoman for the United States Attorney’s Office in the Western District of New York, Jakubonis will be detained pending a hearing on July 27.

After the attack, Republicans quickly canceled Jakubonis’ release because of the failure of bail laws enacted by Democrats in recent years. Zeldin, who has long made public safety central to his campaign against Democrat Governor Kathy Hochul, said Jakubonis should not have been released and said the episode showed the need to increase security and tighten the bail of New York. laws to make it easier for judges to arrest people accused of certain crimes.

In a hastily arranged news conference on Saturday afternoon, Mr Zeldin reiterated that he did not think Mr Jakubonis should have been released the day before.

“I am deeply concerned that we have laws in this state that make that offense ineligible for bail,” he said. He added that he did not believe Mr Jakubonis should be “immediately released back into the street, and I have publicly predicted that is exactly what will happen.”

Mr Zeldin did not respond to a request for comment, but issued a statement following his protest, called the justice system “broken” and “pro-criminal.”

“Cash bail must be abolished, and judges should have full discretion to decide on cash bail for more crimes,” he said in the statement.

Democrats have accused Mr Zeldin of trying to exploit the attack for political gain.

Jakubonis, a US veteran who served in Iraq, said on Friday he did not know who Mr. Zeldin was at the time of the attack. In a sporadic interview outside his apartment in suburban Rochester, he said he approached Mr. Zeldin, an Army reservist, to try to get his microphone after someone that told him Mr. Zeldin had “no respect for veterans”.

Jakubonis, a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology, says he is battling recurrent alcoholism and is being treated for anxiety. He described his mental state on Thursday night as “checked”, adding that he was “oversleeping” within himself.

He believes the sharp object he was holding at the time of the incident – shaped like a cat – was for self-defense. “The ears are plastic, but I guess they are sharp,” he said in the interview Friday afternoon. “Then I was settled.”

According to federal court records, investigators said Jakubonis told them he drank whiskey on the day of the crime.

“In showing a video of the incident, Jakubonis stated, in its entirety and content, that what was depicted in the video was disgusting,” the court filing said.

Voter registration records show he is not affiliated with a political party and a LinkedIn page that appears to belong to him shows he has been “actively looking for work” for many years.

Nicholas Fandos, Jonah E. Bromwich and Lauren D’Avolio contributed reporting.

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