A man accused of attacking U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin at an event where he campaigned for governor of New York earlier this week is behind bars and faces state and federal charges.
Monroe County, N.Y., sheriff’s investigators who interviewed suspect David G. Jakubonis, 43, after the confrontation in nearby Perinton, reported that he said he had been drinking whiskey and didn’t know who Zeldin was, according to court documents.
Despite his claims, “The government is not required to prove that the defendant knew that the victim of the assault was a Member of Congress,” the federal criminal complaint against Jakubonis states.
Jakubonis said he had approached the stage beforehand with concern that whoever was speaking may have disrespected veterans, the complaint states. He was wearing an “Iraqi Freedom” cap during the incident, and he told investigators he served one tour during the Iraq War as a member of the U.S. Army.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of New York told NBC News that Jakubonis made an initial court appearance Saturday.
Zeldin, the Republican candidate for New York governor, was attacked with a pointed object as he campaigned near Rochester Thursday night.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brett A. Harvey, who is handling the case, described the object as “a keychain with two sharp points.” An image included with the federal criminal complaint shows an item in the shape of a caricature cat’s head, with the ears serving as sharp points and the eyes there for placing fingers, similar to brass knuckles.
Suspect Jakubonis told sheriff’s investigators that the item is a self-defense keychain, according to the criminal complaint.
Video of the attack shows a man onstage with Zeldin, grabbing his arm before they fall to the ground.
“You’re done,” the man can be heard repeating in the assault, which unfolded around 8 p.m. at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Perinton.
The attack ended after the suspect was restrained by people in the audience as well as members of Zeldin’s campaign, video recorded by NBC affiliate WHEC of Rochester shows.
No one at the event, including Zeldin, was injured in the attack.
Jakubonis is also facing state charges. Earlier this week he was charged with attempted assault in the second degree, a felony.
It was unclear if the defendant had legal counsel. The Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Western District of New York and the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The defendant was released without bail shortly after his state booking and then re-booked at a federal lockup. Republicans used the case as an example of why they believe Democrats’ drive to end cash bail programs is misguided.
“Only in Kathy Hochul’s New York could a maniac violently attack a candidate for Governor and then be released without bail,” New York GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy tweeted.
Under reform efforts intended to give poorer families access to release from incarceration, New York ended cash bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies in 2020. Attempted assault can be considered a nonviolent felony.
In a statement Saturday, Zeldin expressed support for federal law enforcement and prosecutors.
“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,” he said. “Cashless bail must be repealed and judges should have discretion to set cash bail on far more offenses.”
Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is running against Zeldin to keep her title, tweeted Thursday, “Relieved to hear that Congressman Zeldin was not injured and that the suspect is in custody. I condemn this violent behavior in the strongest terms possible — it has no place in New York.”
In his own statement Friday, President Joe Biden thanked onlookers and law enforcement officers who intervened and responded to the campaign-stop fracas.
“I condemn the attack on Congressman Zeldin in the strongest terms,” Biden said. “As I’ve said before, violence has absolutely no place in our society or our politics. I am especially grateful for the courage of those who immediately intervened, and that he is unharmed and was able to continue his speech.”
Jakubonis is currently being held pending a detention hearing on Wednesday, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.