Zeldin attacker arrested on federal charges; told investigators he did not know who congressman was

The Fairport, N.Y. man who attacked Congressman Lee Zeldin this week told police he did not know who the gubernatorial candidate was and that he had been drinking whiskey on the day of the incident, according to an affidavit filed when the man was charged in federal court Saturday.

David Jakubonis has pleaded not guilty on a single count of assaulting a member of Congress with a dangerous weapon, according to the criminal complaint filed against him in the Western District Court of New York. The charge carries a potential penalty of 10 years in prison.

Mr. Jakubonis is now being held until a bail hearing Wednesday after initially being released following his charge in state court Thursday. Federal prosecutors argued Saturday that he is a flight risk and is dangerous and should be held without bail, court records show. His attorney told the Associated Press he will argue for his client’s release, the wire service reported.

Mr. Zeldin (R-Shirley) praised the federal court for holding Mr. Jakubonis. A rejection of bail reform has been a signature issue in the local congressman’s campaign to unseat Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-Buffalo).

“I’m thankful that federal authorities came in to do what New York State’s broken pro-criminal justice system could not — uphold the rule of law,” Mr. Zeldin said in a statement. “The state must start prioritizing the safety of law-abiding New Yorkers over criminals. Cashless bail must be repealed and judges should have discretion to set cash bail on far more offenses.”

The Perinton Town judge who released Mr. Jakubonis on his own recognizance was, in fact, following the law by issuing his release on a charge of second-degree attempted assault. While actual assault, which in most cases requires a victim to have been injured, is bail eligible, the class-E felony with which Mr. Jakubonis was charged is not eligible for bail under reforms put in place by Democratic lawmakers in Albany and former Governor Andrew Cuomo, to whom Gov. Hochul served as Lt. Governor. Those reforms, intended to eliminate disparities for lower income people unable to post cash bail — a mechanism intended to ensure a defendant returns to court — have been controversial upon their implementation in 2020. Mr. Zeldin was discussing the issue at the time he was attacked.

But Mr. Jakubonis told investigators he thought the congressman, who he said he did not know to be a politician, was disrespecting veterans as he spoke from a flatbed trailer outside the VFW in Perintown. When shown a video of the incident, he told investogators, he “must have checked out,” according to a sworn affidavit by FBI special agent Timothy Klapec, a member of the Jojnt Terrorism Task Force in Rochester.

In videos of the incident posted to social media, Mr. Jakubonis can be seen slowly approaching Mr. Zeldin. The Iraq War veteran held up a keychain with two pointed edges sticking out from between his knuckles to the Congressman’s face, according to court records. The two men then tussled as four people who came to the aid of the Congressman wrestled Mr. Jakubonis to the ground, bringing Mr. Zeldin down too, the video shows.

The keychain Mr. Jakubonis attempted to strike Mr. Zeldin with. (Source: Western District Court of New York records)

Mr. Zeldin and the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said Mr. Jakubonis said to the congressman, “You’re done.”

On Saturday, the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office took to social media to campaign for bail reform, writing that “We cannot be too proud to realize modifications are needed to make our communities safer.” The postings included a graphic that showed a drastic decline in jail bookings and a sharp increase in shootings since the start of bail reform but made no direct correlation tying those shootings to individuals awaiting trial in other incidents.

Like Mr. Zeldin, Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter, a Democrat who was first elected in 2017, has been a frequent critic of bail reform. In 2019, he penned an op/ed in a Rochester newspaper urging state lawmakers to overturn the measures before they took effect.

Perinton, N.Y. is nine miles east of Rochester and about 20 miles south of Lake Ontario and the Canadian border. The town, which neighbors the village where Mr. Jakubonis lives, was the first sop on Mr. Zeldin’s “Fire Kathy Hochul” campaign kickoff bus tour. The tour concludes Sunday with stops in Poughkeepsie, Montgomery and Hastings-on-Hudson, according to a schedule of events posted to social media.