Lee Zeldin attacker in custody during mental health questions

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The man who allegedly attacked New York gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin during a campaign rally will remain behind bars until more is known about the state of his mental health, a federal judge ruled Thursday. 

David Jakubonis, 43, will remain in custody pending more information from the Department of Veterans Affairs about a recent mental illness diagnosis, Judge Marian Payson said during a detention hearing in Rochester federal court.

“I am very much disinclined to release Mr. Jakubonis to live with himself,” the judge said. “Such an unstructured setting is not an environment I would be amenable to.”

The troubled Army veteran, a resident of Fairport, NY, was arrested on July 21 after he allegedly lunged at the Republican congressman with a bizarre weapon during an upstate campaign stop.

Federal prosecutor Sean Eldridge told the court Thursday that Jakubonis noticed a warning light on the dashboard of his car the day of the attack, and pulled into a repair shop across from where Zeldin was speaking. 

David Jakubonis, 43, of Fairport, NY, leaves after being remanded by federal law enforcement after a bail hearing at the Kenneth B Keating Federal building in Rochester, NY.
David Jakubonis, 43, of Fairport, NY, leaves after being remanded by federal law enforcement after a bail hearing at the Kenneth B Keating Federal building in Rochester, NY.
Stephen Yang
Image of a man holding a pointed weapon to Lee Zeldin
David Jakubonis is alleged to have lunged at Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin with an edged weapon while saying, “No, you’re done, you’re done, you’re done.”

Another veteran who was in the crowd told investigators that Jakubonis looked “very odd” as he subsequently made his way through the crowd and toward the stage where Zeldin was speaking. 

The two vets had a brief exchange before Jakubonis allegedly said “sorry, I gotta do this” and kept walking. 

Prosecutors said the other man shouted after Jakubonis “what do you mean?” but got no reply.

Jakubonis walked handcuffed into court Thursday, wearing glasses and a Monroe County Jail jumpsuit. He quietly examined the gallery as his cuffs were unlocked and he took his seat.

“It is the government’s view no conditions would reasonably assure the safety of the community,” Eldridge told the judge, arguing Jakubonis was too dangerous to be let out of jail, even if the court imposed the strictest bail conditions. 

“It was a crime of violence,” Eldridge added. “To characterize what happened to Congressman Zeldin as a ‘close call’ is an understatement.” 

Eldridge also noted the odd, plastic, cat-shaped weapon used in the attack was marketed as a “self-defence” weapon. The judge asked for details and dimensions of the “My Kitty Self Defense Keychain,” but balked at it being described as a “dagger.”

Defense attorney Steven Slawinski said his client was a mentally battle-scarred Iraq War vet with a drinking problem, who had relapsed after a recent breakup.

“Mr. Jakubonis has severe anxiety and a panic disorder,” Slawinski said. “He’d been through a breakup recently, fell off the wagon and went on a bender.”

“This is somebody who has served his country honorably. I would ask the court to make him an inpatient at the VA, rather than putting him in jail for an incident that was caused by a relapse of alcoholism,” Slawisnki said.

Slawinski argued Jakubonis should be released from jail and sent to a VA medical center in Bath, NY, for psychiatric care and substance abuse treatment.

“Mr Jakubonis went into the army, served for five years before he got an honorable discharge,” the attorney said.

“While in the army he toured Iraq and was awarded the prestigious bronze star,” Slawinski added. “He wasn’t ‘outside the line’ but was still exposed to dangers and now has severe anxiety and a panic disorder.”

Slawinski said Jakubonis had been an alcoholic for most of his adult life and his drinking worsened after his wife died of a cerebral hemorrhage and he lost custody of his children to his brother.

The judge said she could not release Jakubonis without knowing more about his recent mental illness diagnoses, which his defense team is in the process of requesting from the VA. 

“I am trying to get a handle on whether the mental health symptoms are getting worse and whether they contributed to what happened on July 21,” Payson said.

“As far as Mr Jakubonis being an inpatient to treat his alcohol problem, that seems warranted — whether it is sufficient I do not know,” said Payson.

“The case against Mr Jakubonis appears reasonably strong, which is not alone reason for detention,” she continued. “The question is, is this aberrant behavior and if so, are there sufficient conditions to ensure the safety of the community in the event he was released?”

“If Mr Jakubonis were released, the conditions would need to be very strict and he would need support,” Payson added.

Jakubonis has struggled with his mental health since the death of his wife and a medical discharge from the Army, a former neighbor told The Post.

A current neighbor said the dad of two had been acting differently in recent months, often blasting loud music from his apartment. The neighbor alleged they had overheard Jakubonis discussing a “relapse.”

“Everything made sense, if he’s relapsing,” the neighbor opined to The Post. “Music’s getting loud lately.” 

Jakubonis had told police that he has a close relationship with his father. But law enforcement, prosecutors and the defense have been unable to contact him.

For that reason, Payson said, it would not be possible to release Jakubonis into his family’s care. 

Jakubonis is next due in court on August 24, though a decision on his bail may be made sooner. 

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