The man who attempted to assault Congressman Lee Zeldin during a New York campaign event is now facing federal charges.
David Jakubonis was arrested on July 21 after climbing on stage outside of the VFW in Perinton and swinging at Zeldin while wearing a spiked self-defense key chain. Zeldin grabbed his wrist to prevent the attack while members of the crowd intervened. The congressman, who is the Republican candidate for governor, was not injured and returned to the stage later that night to finish his speech.
Jakubonis, an Army veteran, was charged with second-degree attempted assault and was released after being arraigned. He was in police custody for just over six hours.
Barbara Burns, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, announced on July 23 that Jakubonis had subsequently been arrested on federal assault charges filed by the United States Attorney’s Office in the Western District of New York. Jakubonis has been charged with assaulting a member of Congress using a deadly weapon. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.
Burns noted that Jakubonis had appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Marion W. Payson and will remain in custody while awaiting a detention hearing on July 27.
Jakubonis is being represented by assistant federal defender for the Western District of New York Steve Slawinski, who told CNN that he plans to “request the judge to release him from custody” during the hearing.
“The fact that a defendant has been charged with a crime is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty,” Burns noted in her press release.
According to the criminal complaint, Jakubonis told law enforcement that he had gone on stage to ask Zeldin if he was insulting veterans. He said he did not “know who the speaker was or that the speaker was a political person” and acknowledged that he was carrying the self-defense key chain.
He also told investigators that he had been drinking whiskey and “must have checked out,” per Fox News.
Jakubonis’s former neighbor told The New York Post that the 43-year-old was “going through some kind of mental break” since his 2012 medical discharge and the death of his wife, Candyce.
“He became more and more detached over the years after his wife died,” the unnamed neighbor said. “He’s a peculiar guy, he has social issues… He would say or do things like an adolescent would do.”
Crime in New York has been a focus of Zeldin’s campaign.
In a statement after the attack, campaign spokeswoman Katie Vincentz said that “far more must be done to make New York safe again.”
“Unfortunately, Congressman Zeldin is just the latest New Yorker whose life has been affected by the out of control crime and violence in New York. This needs to stop!” Vincentz said. “Thankfully, we still have exceptional men and women in law enforcement answering the call to protect our streets.”
Zeldin called for a repeal of a 2019 state law that removed cash bails for most misdemeanors and non-violent crimes, citing his own attack as an example of the current system’s failures.
“We cannot live in a state where someone who commits a felony trying to stab me on stage at a campaign rally then gets immediately released,” he wrote on Twitter. “New York’s cashless bail law must be REPEALED! Kathy Hochul refuses to get this job done. I will!”