In this image taken from video provided by WHEC-TV, David...

In this image taken from video provided by WHEC-TV, David Jakubonis, left, brandishes a sharp object as he allegedly attacks U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, right, as the Republican candidate for governor delivered a speech in upstate Perinton on July 21. Credit: AP

A man who accosted 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 because he lunged at a congressman with a dangerous weapon.

“To characterize what happened to Congressman Zeldin that day as a close call is an understatement,” Eldridge said.

A video of the attack shows Jakubonis raised his arm toward the congressman from Shirley while holding a keychain with two sharp points.

“You’re done,” Jakubonis said four times as he approached Zeldin.

Zeldin grabbed Jakubonis’ wrist and the two tussled to the ground as others jumped in to help. Zeldin suffered a minor scrape.

Jakubonis' attorney, federal public defender Steven Slawinski, said his client was drunk and didn’t know who Zeldin was when he tried to take the congressman's microphone.

Jakubonis had been receiving treatment for substance abuse and mental health counseling from the VA when he relapsed and started drinking the day of Zeldin’s rally, which was near the defendant's house, Slawinski said.

“He was drunk and relapsed,” Slawinski said. “He had no political motive to do anything."

Jakubonis was being treated for PTSD and anxiety after four years of service in the U.S. Army, including a deployment to Iraq where he received the Bronze Star, Slawinski said. When he returned from Iraq, his wife died from a brain condition and he relinquished custody of his children, his attorney said.

Slawinski said he was waiting for the state court to drop its charges, leaving only the federal charge of attempting to assault a congressman. The attorney is seeking either probation with strict conditions or inpatient care.

Judge Marian Payson said she would make a detention decision after considering whether Jakubonis' actions last week were “aberrant” behavior and whether there was enough support in place should he be released from jail. She said she wanted to review Jakubonis' mental health history.

 The judge also asked prosecutors to send her a photo of the object — which Eldridge called a “cat dagger” — and its dimensions, noting that Jakubonis was released after his initial arrest on a state charge. She asked whether opinions differed on whether the plastic object was considered “a dangerous weapon.”

“It is not designed to be a decoration. It’s designed to be a weapon,” Eldridge said. “The points are very pointy and the material is hard enough that it could puncture the skin.”

The federal criminal complaint filed Saturday said Jakubonis “did not know who the speaker was or that the speaker was a political person.” It said 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.

He has two prior misdemeanor DWI convictions from 2006 and 2019. His two-year probation on the 2019 count expired in December 2021.

A big part of Zeldin’s campaign message has been a promise to get tougher on criminals. Almost immediately after the onstage 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 before 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. 

Payson did not say when she would rule on the government's request for detention. A status hearing is scheduled for Aug. 24.

With John Asbury

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