Congressman Lee Zeldin’s Attacker to Be Released to Rehab – NBC New York

What to Know

  • The man who accosted Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin at a campaign event in western New York will be released from jail into an alcohol treatment program, a federal judge ruled.
  • US Magistrate Judge Marian Payson agreed Wednesday to allow David Jakubonis to enter a treatment program administered by the Veterans Administration. He will then be transferred to a halfway house operated by an organization that assists troubled veterans.
  • A video of the incident shows Jakubonis raising his arm toward Zeldin while holding a keychain with two sharp points. Attorneys for Jakubonis, an Army veteran, have said their client was drunk and was only reaching for Zeldin’s microphone to stop him from talking.

The man who accosted Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin at a campaign event in western New York will be released from jail into an alcohol treatment program, a federal judge ruled.

US Magistrate Judge Marian Payson agreed Wednesday to allow David Jakubonis to enter a treatment program administered by the Veterans Administration. He will then be transferred to a halfway house operated by an organization that assists troubled veterans.

The attack on Zeldin, a Congress member from Long Island who is challenging Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, occurred July 21 at a campaign rally near Rochester.

A video of the incident shows Jakubonis raising his arm toward Zeldin while holding a keychain with two sharp points. “You’re done,” Jakubonis said four times as he approached Zeldin.

At a detention in July, assistant US Attorney Sean Eldridge argued that 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.

Zeldin grabbed Jakubonis’ wrist and the two tussled to the ground as others jumped in to help. Zeldin suffered a minor scrape.

Attorneys for Jakubonis, an Army veteran, have said their client was drunk and was only reaching for Zeldin’s microphone to stop him from talking.

“Mr. Jakubonis, if he is drinking, does have a problem holding his liquor,” defense attorney Steven Slawinski said at a detention hearing, adding that Jakubonis 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 at the time.

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.

Jakubonis has been jailed since he was charged federally with assaulting a member of Congress with a dangerous weapon. He was initially arrested on a state charge of attempted assault and released.

John DeMarco, an attorney for Jakubonis, said he expects Jakubonis to be released on Monday.

In response to Jakubonis being transferred to a treatment facility, Zeldin said he was “thankful” the judge recognized the veteran needed help.

“When our veterans seek treatment, it’s easy to pinpoint their physical wounds, but oftentimes their invisible wounds go unnoticed and untreated. Unfortunately, it’s now clear that Mr. Jakubonis is one of the many veterans battling invisible demons, but, fortunately for Mr. Jakubonis, he is now getting the help he needs,” Zeldin said in a statement.

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