WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 20: Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) attends a press conference on the current conflict between Israel and the Palestinians on May 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Republicans voiced their support for Israel and urged the Biden Administration to do the same. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
See GOP candidate attacked during a campaign event
02:18 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

New York gubernatorial nominee Rep. Lee Zeldin, a day after he was attacked onstage at a campaign event, said Friday that changes to the state’s cashless bail system are necessary and that judges should have discretion when considering who should remain in police custody.

“My first and foremost concern about cashless bail and the need to overhaul it is dangerousness,” Zeldin, a Republican, said after his alleged attacker was released on his own recognizance after being charged with attempted assault in the second degree.

“The judges should have discretion to weigh dangerousness. It’s about the victim,” Zeldin, who was unharmed in the attack, said at a rally in Onondaga County, New York. “But even if you were having a conversation with the strongest advocate of cashless bail, I would challenge them on this point: I would argue that they’re doing a disservice to the person who attacked us on stage last night because they rush – they have to, by law – they have to rush to get him released.”

David Jakubonis, 43, was charged with attempted assault in the second degree after he allegedly confronted Zeldin while he was giving a speech in Fairpoint, New York, on Thursday night. Jakubonis “attempted to stab” Zeldin, a statement from the campaign said, and the GOP lawmaker “grabbed the attacker’s wrist to stop him until several others assisted in taking the attacker down to the ground.”

Jakubonis was “armed with a set of self-defense knuckles which had two sharp pointed ends which protruded beyond his fist,” according to a criminal complaint. Police are unclear as to why the attack occurred.

Zeldin, who has made New York’s rising crime rate a central focus of his campaign’s attacks on incumbent Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul, said he believes cashless bail should be repealed and that there “should also be a certain minimum set where certain cases, certain suspects, defendants, they have to remain behind bars.”

“So, what I propose is that we repeal cashless bail, that judges are given discretion to weigh dangerousness and flight risk and past criminal record and seriousness of the offense. And we make sure that that law includes protections against some judges who, if given the discretion, will choose not to keep behind bars people who absolutely must remain behind bars. That’s my proposal,” he said.

Monroe County sheriff’s deputy Brendan Hurley said Jakubonis apparently “exhibited signs of intoxication and told deputies he had been drinking,” adding that the alleged attacker had no known connection to Zeldin. Jakubonis claimed to be a veteran, but police “have not confirmed that to be factual,” said Hurley, who added that Jakubonis was cooperative in his discussion with investigators.

One of the witnesses whose statement was included in the criminal complaint was Zeldin’s running mate, lieutenant governor GOP nominee Alison Esposito, a former member of the New York Police Department who was on stage at the time and helped subdue Jakubonis.

“While the male was walking towards the congressman, I heard him say ‘you’re done’ no less than three times,” Esposito said.

Republicans express outrage over suspect’s quick release

David Jakubonis, center, is taken into custody by Monroe County Sheriff deputies after he allegedly brandished a sharp object during an attack on Rep. Lee Zeldin on Thursday, July 21, 2022.

Jakubonis was held for six hours before his arraignment, where he was released on his own recognizance, Hurley said. He has travel restrictions limiting him to Monroe County and an order of protection was also issued for him to stay away from Zeldin, according to court paperwork.

Due to the class of felony allegedly committed, under New York law, the presiding judge couldn’t set bond even if they wanted to, Hurley explained to CNN. In 2019, New York’s bail reform law eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanor and non-violent felony charges, and Class E is the least serious class of felony.

Republicans expressed outrage over Jakubonis’ quick release.

Bruce Blakeman, the Republican executive of Nassau County, used the attack to criticize efforts to soften criminal penalties.

“There must be real changes to ‘cashless bail’ laws and we must support law enforcement to keep neighbors safe and hold those who endanger the public accountable for their actions,” Blakeman said in a Twitter thread.

New York State Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt called for a special session to be called to address the violent criminals breaking our laws.

“If it wasn’t clear before to the radicals in Albany, it should be as clear as day now: the deadly pro-criminal policies of the Governor and Democratic Majorities have made New Yorkers less safe. Enough is enough. How many more innocent victims must be attacked before Albany politicians wake up?”

Hochul, Zeldin’s opponent in the November gubernatorial contest, tweeted Thursday evening that she was “relieved to hear” he was not injured in the incident.

“My team has informed me about the incident at Lee Zeldin’s campaign event tonight. 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,” Hochul wrote.

President Joe Biden also condemned the incident in a statement.

“As I’ve said before, violence has absolutely no place in our society or our politics,” Biden said. “I am especially grateful for the courage of those who immediately intervened, and that he is unharmed and was able to continue his speech. I also want to thank the law enforcement officers who quickly took action and are investigating this attack that defies our fundamental democratic values.”