Rebekah Jones, fired by Florida’s Department of Health in May after claiming she was ordered to “manipulate” Covid-19 data, accuses state governor Ron DeSantis of acting “like the Gestapo”, says officers pointed guns at her children.
By Richard Luscombe in Miami
A data scientist who has clashed repeatedly with Florida’s governor over allegations the state was manipulating Covid-19 information posted a video to her Twitter account Monday that she says shows armed police raiding her home and pointing guns at her children.
The black and white video posted to Rebekah Jones’ account appears to show officers entering her house in Tallahassee, ordering her outside, and drawing weapons when they learn Jones’ husband and young children are upstairs. She claims they took her computers containing evidence of “corruption at the state level”.
In its own statement on Monday evening, the Florida department of law enforcement said officers were serving a search warrant relating to an investigation into “unauthorized access” to a state messaging system.
Jones was fired from the Florida department of health in May after claiming that she was ordered to censor and manipulate information on the state’s Covid-19 database that she created and managed.
Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor and close Donald Trump ally who was pushing a plan to reopen the state at the time despite coronavirus numbers still soaring, was swift with his own retribution, subjecting Jones to a vicious public character assassination and dismissing her as an insubordinate and disgruntled former employee.
Since her dismissal she has continued to amass and disseminate Florida’s Covid-19 information online privately, maintaining a rival to the state’s official database and more recently compiling and publishing information on coronavirus cases in Florida’s schools.
Monday’s early morning raid on Jones’ residence came only two days after the South Florida Sun-Sentinel published a searing analysis of DeSantis’s handling of the pandemic, which alleges the governor repeatedly misled the public and withheld crucial data, and spread false information to make the situation appear better than it was.
On Monday, Florida added a further 7,711 new coronavirus cases for a statewide total of 1,065,785 and 105 deaths, bringing the tally to 19,282.
“This was DeSantis. He sent the gestapo,” Jones tweeted about the law enforcement raid on her home. “They took my phone and the computer I use every day to post the case numbers in Florida, and school cases for the entire country.
“They took evidence of corruption at the state level. They claimed it was about a security breach.”
In subsequent tweets she said: “This is what happens to people who speak truth to power. I tell them my husband and my two children are upstairs… and THEN one of them draws his gun. On my children. This is DeSantis’ Florida.”
In the video, Jones identifies the officers as “state police”. The Florida department of law enforcement released a statement to journalists on Monday claiming that Jones was under investigation for illegally accessing state computers.
“This morning FDLE served a search warrant at a residence on Centerville Court in Tallahassee, the residence of Rebekah Jones,” the statement said.
“FDLE began an investigation November 10, 2020 after receiving a complaint from the Department of Health regarding unauthorized access to a Department of Health messaging system which is part of an emergency alert system, to be used for emergencies only. Agents believe someone at the residence on Centerville Court illegally accessed the system.
“Our role is to determine the facts of what happened and a State Attorney determines whether or not charges are filed.”
The statement added that Jones was uncooperative when officers “knocked on the door and called Ms. Jones in an attempt to minimize disruption to the family.
“Ms Jones refused to come to the door for 20 minutes and hung up on agents. After several attempts and verbal notifications that law enforcement officers were there to serve a legal search warrant, Ms. Jones eventually came to the door and allowed agents to enter.”
In November, the Florida DOH claimed that an unknown person or persons had hacked into a state system used to send emergency communications and sent an unauthorized message to members of the Emergency Response Team responsible for coordinating public health and medical response, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
The newspaper said the message urged recipients to: “speak up before another 17,000 people are dead. You know this is wrong. You don’t have to be a part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it’s too late.”.
In an interview with The Guardian in August, Jones insisted she would not be silenced by DeSantis’s personal attacks on her work and her character, a statement she repeated on Monday afternoon on Twitter.
“If DeSantis thought pointing a gun in my face was a good way to get me to shut up, he’s about to learn just how wrong he was. I’ll have a new computer tomorrow. And then I’m going to get back to work,” she wrote.