Suspect in Zeldin Attack Is Arrested on Federal Charge

A man accused of using a sharp weapon to confront Representative Lee Zeldin, the Republican candidate for governor of New York, on Thursday night has been arrested on a federal assault charge, officials said.

The incident took place outside a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall near Rochester, N.Y., where Mr. Zeldin was speaking during the first in a series of campaign stops over the weekend. A man, who was later identified by the police as David G. Jakubonis, approached Mr. Zeldin with a pointed weapon that federal officials later described as a key chain with two sharp points.

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

On Saturday, Mr. Jakubonis, 43, of Fairport, N.Y., appeared in federal court in Rochester before U.S. Magistrate Judge Marian W. Payson of the United States District Court for the Western District of New York. He had earlier been charged with attempted assault in the second degree, according to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, and released without bail. Under state law, judges have been prohibited since 2020 from setting bail on a nonviolent felony charge of attempted assault.

The federal charge — assaulting a member of Congress using a dangerous weapon — carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, according to officials. Mr. Jakubonis will be held pending a detention hearing on July 27, according to Barbara Burns, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of New York.

After the attack, Republicans quickly cast Mr. Jakubonis’s release as a failure of the bail law enacted by Democrats in recent years. Mr. Zeldin, who has long made public safety a centerpiece of his campaign against Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, said that Mr. Jakubonis should not have been released and argued that the episode illustrated a need to increase policing and tighten New York’s bail laws to make it easier for judges to hold people charged with certain crimes.

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

“I am concerned, deeply, that we have laws in this state that would result in that offense not being bail eligible,” he said. He added that he did not believe Mr. Jakubonis should have been“immediately released back out on the streets, and I predicted publicly that that’s exactly what was going to happen.”

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

“Cashless bail must be repealed,” he said in the statement, “and judges should have discretion to set cash bail on far more offenses.”

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

Mr. Jakubonis, a U.S. Army veteran who had served in Iraq, said on Friday that he did not know who Mr. Zeldin was at the time of the attack. In a disjointed interview outside his apartment in suburban Rochester, he said he approached Mr. Zeldin, an Army reservist, to try to take his microphone after someone told him that Mr. Zeldin was “disrespecting veterans.”

Mr. Jakubonis, a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology, said that he was battling a relapse of alcoholism and was being treated for anxiety. He described his mental state on Thursday night as “checked out,” adding that he had fallen “asleep within” himself.

He suggested the pointed object he was holding at the time of the incident — which was shaped like a cat — was intended for self-defense. “The ears are plastic, but I guess they’re sharp,” he said in the interview on Friday afternoon. “Then I was tackled.”

According to federal court records, investigators said Mr. Jakubonis told them he had consumed whiskey on the day of the incident.

“When shown a video of the incident, Jakubonis stated, in sum and substance, that what was depicted in the video was disgusting,” the court records said.

Voter registration records indicated that he was not affiliated with a political party, and a LinkedIn page that appeared to belong to him indicated he had been “actively seeking employment” for years.

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

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