Suspect in attack on U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin to remain in custody as judge weighs release thumbnail

Suspect in attack on U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin to remain in custody as judge weighs release

A man who accosted U.S. 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 who 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 Long Island as he held 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.

Defense attorney Steven Slawinski said Jakubonis was only reaching for Zeldin’s microphone to stop him from talking, under the mistaken belief Zeldin was disrespecting veterans. He blamed the episode on a relapse triggered by a breakup with a girlfriend.

“Mr. Jakubonis, if he is drinking, does have a problem holding his liquor,” the lawyer said, adding that Jakubonis also has been prescribed psychiatric medication that can interact poorly with alcohol.

Slawinski sought either probation with strict conditions or inpatient care. Jakubonis, he said, was an admitted alcoholic who sought treatment throughout his adult life. He developed severe anxiety and panic attacks while serving a year in Iraq, the lawyer said, and his mental health declined further after he witnessed the sudden death of his wife of seven years from a cerebral hemorrhage three years ago.

“That would send anyone into a sprial,” Slawinski told the court.

After his wife’s death, Jakubonis relinquished custody of his children to his brother and sister-in-law. Slawinski said Jakubonis has not seen his children since because it is too painful to see them call anyone else mom and dad.

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

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