A man who accosted U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin on stage as the Republican campaigned for governor will remain in custody while a federal judge considers his lawyer’s plea to release the Army veteran, who he said was in an alcoholic relapse.
David Jakubonis, 43, faces a federal count of assaulting a member of Congress with a dangerous weapon for the attack July 21 in the Rochester area. The charge carries a potential maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
At a detention hearing Thursday, assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Eldridge argued Jakubonis should be held as a danger to the community who lunged at a congressman with a dangerous weapon.
But defense attorney Steven Slawinski blamed the episode on a relapse triggered by a breakup with a girlfriend. Slawinski sought either probation with strict conditions or inpatient care. Jakubonis, he said, was an admitted alcoholic who sought treatment throughout his adult life.
Judge Marian Payson said she would make a decision after considering whether Jakubonis’ actions last week were “aberrant” behavior and whether there is enough support in place if he is released from jail.
A video of the attack shows Jakubonis raised his arm toward the congressman from Long Island as he held a keychain with two sharp points. Zeldin grabbed Jakubonis’ wrist and the two tussled to the ground as others jumped in to help. Zeldin suffered a minor scrape.
The federal criminal complaint filed Saturday alleged Jakubonis, an Iraq War veteran, told investigators he was drinking whiskey before he went onstage as Zeldin addressed a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in the town of Perinton to ask the speaker if he was disrespecting veterans.
Jakubonis “did not know who the speaker was or that the speaker was a political person,” according to the complaint. The complaint added that when Jakubonis watched video of the incident he told investigators he “must have checked out” and that what was depicted in the video was disgusting.
Jakubonis was arraigned Friday on a separate state charge of attempted assault in the second degree and was released by a local judge.
A big part of Zeldin’s campaign message has been a promise to get tougher on criminals. Almost immediately after the on-stage altercation with Jakubonis, he sought to link a New York bail reform law passed by Democrats to his own case.
The law requires judges to free most people accused of lesser crimes while they await trial. It limits the instances when judges can require a defendant to pay money to gain their freedom, a system that favored wealthier people.
When he was initially arrested, a Monroe County sheriff’s investigator charged Jakubonis with second-degree attempted assault, a crime not serious enough to warrant his jailing or the imposition of bail.
Afterward, Zeldin tweeted that his assailant’s release was “due to New York’s insane cashless bail law.”
Democrats pointed out that if prosecutors had wanted to give a judge discretion to jail Jakubonis, Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley — a Republican who is listed as being a co-chair of Zeldin’s campaign — could have simply picked a more serious charge.
Even prior to the bail reform law, a charge of second-degree attempted assault might have been unlikely to lead to a judge setting a high bail that might have kept Jakubonis for more than a night.