It didn’t take long for a campaign attack on Rep. Lee Zilden to become the latest flashpoint in the political fight over New York’s bail laws.
Hours after the attack last week, Mr. Zelden, the Republican candidate for governor of New York, whose criticism of the Democrat-led changes to bail laws has been a key issue of his campaign, said on Twitter that he hoped the man arrested in the attack, David Jacobones, would be released.
After his prediction came true, he spoke at length, emphasizing in news conferences and television appearances how Mr. Jacobones’ release without bail exemplified the problems with bail law. .
But almost immediately, the involvement of Mr. Zeldin’s political allies raised questions about the incident. Many Democrats seized on the relationship between the candidate and Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley, who was listed as campaign co-chairman on Mr. Zelden’s website as recently as this week. He noted that the sheriff who charged Mr. Jacobones, Todd K. Baxter of Monroe County, was also an outspoken opponent of the bail law.
And finally, he wondered why Mr. Jacobones had been charged with attempted second-degree assault, a charge that is non-bailable, virtually guaranteeing his release. will go as Mr. Zeldon predicted.
“I don’t know why a prosecutor wouldn’t charge a more serious crime,” said Charles DeLaVine, a Democrat who serves as chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee and is a former criminal defense attorney. “Here’s a situation where someone assaults an elected official with a weapon. Could it be — as some are suggesting — that the charge was framed in such a way that Zelden is subject to New York state bail laws? To be allowed to complain about? That I don’t know.”
State Assemblyman Damon Max, a Rochester Democrat, went even further, saying he was surprised at the “light” charge, given Ms. Doorley’s reputation as an “aggressive” prosecutor, and said the matter was “definitely a political ploy”.
No evidence has emerged to indicate that the charge was chosen to secure the release of Mr. Jacobones, who was working to amplify Mr. Zeldin’s campaign message. Several Monroe County criminal attorneys say the charge was appropriate given the details of the July 21 attack.
And in an interview, Jeffrey Brangan, the sheriff’s office investigating officer who filed the charge, said there had been no input from the district attorney’s office, other than to say the charge was not eligible for bail. .
Sergeant Mike Zamiara, a sheriff’s office spokesman, said Tuesday that the sheriff’s office was “aware of some controversy surrounding this matter.”
However, he insisted that “the sheriff’s office doesn’t have a dog in this fight and we don’t want to get involved. There’s no trying to influence anything here.”
A spokesman for Mr. Zeldin’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The incident began Thursday at a campaign stop near Rochester, when a man identified by police as Mr. Jacobones approached Mr. Zelden while he was giving a speech. In the video of the encounter, Mr. Jacobones can be seen placing his left arm on the candidate’s shoulder, then moves his right hand, pointing a plastic key in the shape of a cat’s head in the direction of Mr. Zeldin’s chest. They were holding the chain. , saying “you’re done” several times.
Mr. Zeldon appeared to easily stop him, and the man was quickly thrown to the ground, bringing the candidate with him. Mr. Jacobones was charged later that evening by Sheriff Baxter’s office. Mr. Zeldin was not harmed.
Sheriff Baxter has been outspoken in his opposition to changes to the state’s bail law, which went into effect in early 2020 and has since been amended twice. Democrats passed changes that would have prevented people from being jailed for relatively minor crimes. (More serious crimes, including violent crimes, remain eligible for bail.)
Opponents of the law have said the changes have led to an increase in crime, but statistics don’t show that to be the case, and researchers say that, given that the law began with the start of the pandemic. Agreed, it would take years to take full effect. Be determined. But with some crime categories on the rise, more people are charged, released and rearrested, providing ammunition for the law’s critics.
In November 2019, Sheriff Baxter wrote an opinion. calling on the state to change the law before it goes into effect and claiming that “the public will be appalled at the negative impact this law will have on the safety of our communities.” And the day after Mr Jacobones attack, The sheriff made the announcement on Twitter. that he had cleared his calendar to discuss “fixing” criminal justice reform with any state legislators who were interested.
Mr. Branagan said he had not spoken with the sheriff before determining the charges to be filed against Mr. Jacobones.
He said he went to the scene of the attack and interviewed Mr. Zeldin as well as some of his staff about what happened. He had not previously spoken to Mr. Zelden, the congressman representing Suffolk County on Long Island, and said he did not know who the candidate was.
After completing his investigation, Mr. Branagan made three calls to the District Attorney’s office. The first two were from Perry Dickles, Ms. Doorley’s deputy, who Mr. Brangan said he planned to press charges of attempted assault in the second degree.
At the time of his second call, Mr. Dickles had just received word that two police officers had been shot in Rochester. So he asked Mr. Branagan to discuss the case further with Matthew Schwartz, chief of the district attorney’s major crimes unit.
During the conversation with Mr. Schwartz, Mr. Brangan confirmed with Mr. Schwartz that the charge was not bailable.
Mr. Branagan said it was not unusual for the sheriff’s office in Monroe County to file such charges without a prosecutor, and lawyers practicing in criminal court there agreed.
Still, Mr. Jacobones’ case has drawn scrutiny over the district attorney’s relationship with Mr. Zelden. Callie Marinetti, a spokeswoman for Ms. Dorley, said the district attorney had not been personally involved in any discussions about the charges against Mr. Jacobones, and by Friday he had decided to recuse himself from the case. (Mr Zeldon claimed on Monday that Ms Doorley had isolated herself in a “snap decision” after the attack, According to the Albany Times Union.)
Ms. Doorley, Mr. Dickles and Mr. Schwartz could not be made available for comment.
Ms. Marinetti added that Ms. Doorley stopped advising Mr. Zeldin’s campaign in the spring. He said that because there had never been any paperwork formalizing Ms Doorley’s role, there had been no “official withdrawal” from the campaign. In an emailed statement later Thursday, Ms. Doorley’s office said she informed Mr. Zeldin of her decision not to join his campaign on April 28.
Defense lawyers and former prosecutors who practice in Monroe County said the attempted assault charge was appropriate given the details of Mr. Jacobones’ attack on Mr. Zelden, and that they clearly did not suspect anything suspicious about the circumstances. Not seen in which it was filed.
Jill Paperno, who worked as a public defender in Monroe County for 35 years before leaving for private practice in the spring, said the attempted assault charge made sense because of the spiked key chain that Mr. Jacobones used. She didn’t seem to be able to keep up. Causing “serious bodily injury” that would require aggravated assault. (In New York, serious bodily injury means that there is a substantial risk of death, or that a bodily organ is likely to be disfigured or damaged.)
Donald M. Thompson, a partner at the firm of Easton Thompson Kasperk Shiffrin in Rochester and a criminal defense attorney, agreed that the indictment accurately reflected the charges, that it was not particularly lenient and that it was a matter for both agencies. It was not an unusual thing to do. Charged in advance.
Asked if it could have been coordinated to Mr. Zelden’s benefit, Mr. Thompson was thoughtful.
“As a political thought, could it have happened?” They said. “I don’t think we can rule that out. Is there any evidence for that? Not that I’m aware of. But certainly those who are inclined to do so can make that argument. Because we can draw the curtain. Can’t undo, you can’t say why it happened or why it didn’t happen.
Mr. Jacobones has since been charged federally with assaulting a member of Congress using a dangerous weapon. He has been in federal custody since Saturday. A detention hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.