MIAMI (CBSMiami/CNN) — A former top Florida coronavirus data scientist is speaking out after her home was raided Monday by police.
Rebekah Jones was fired by the state’s Department of Health in May after complaining that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration was manipulating COVID-19 data to make the virus appear less prevalent as the governor pushed to reopen Florida’s economy.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is now investigating whether she accessed a state government messaging system without authorization to urge employees to speak out about COVID deaths.
Jones told CNN that she hadn’t improperly accessed any state messaging system and that she lost access to her government computer accounts after she was removed from her position more than six months ago.
Shortly before 5 p.m. Monday, Jones posted a tweet showing video of armed police entering her home while executing a search warrant.
There will be no update today.
At 8:30 am this morning, state police came into my house and took all my hardware and tech.
They were serving a warrant on my computer after DOH filed a complaint.
They pointed a gun in my face. They pointed guns at my kids.. pic.twitter.com/DE2QfOmtPU
— Rebekah Jones (@GeoRebekah) December 7, 2020
Jones says this was an attempt by the governor to intimidate scientists and it won’t stop her from reporting COVID-19 data.
“DeSantis needs to worry less about what I’m writing about and more about the people who are sick and dying in his state and doing this to me will not stop me from reporting the data. Ever,” said Jones.
The video posted by Jones shows officers brandishing guns and telling Jones to exit her Tallahassee home. The video also shows a law enforcement officer yelling at Jones’ husband to “come down the stairs now.”
Jones can be heard saying in a high-pitched voice, “He just pointed a gun at my children.”
According to a statement provided by FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger, FDLE launched an investigation on Nov. 10 after receiving a complaint from the health department that someone at Jones’ residence illegally accessed a state emergency-alert messaging system.
“It’s time to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead,” the message said, according to the police affidavit. “You know this is wrong. You don’t have to be part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it’s too late.”
Officials traced the message, which was sent on the afternoon of November 10 to about 1,750 recipients, to an IP address connected to Jones’ house, the investigator wrote in the affidavit.
Jones told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Monday night that she didn’t send the message.
“I’m not a hacker,” Jones said. She added that the language in the message that authorities said was sent was “not the way I talk,” and contained errors she would not make.
“The number of deaths that the person used wasn’t even right,” Jones said. “They were actually under by about 430 deaths. I would never round down 430 deaths.”
In an attempt to “minimize disruption to the family,” Plessinger said that agents knocked on the door at Jones’ home and called her phone.
“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,” the statement said. “Ms. Jones’ family was upstairs when agents made entry into the home.”
In a subsequent Twitter post, Jones accused the DeSantis administration of sending the “gestapo” after her.
“This is what happens to scientists who do their job honestly. This is what happens to people who speak truth to power,” Jones tweeted, adding that she would have “a new computer tomorrow” and that she would get back to work on her website.
“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,” she wrote.
“At no time were weapons pointed at anyone in the home,” Rick Swearingen, the department’s commissioner, added in another statement.
DeSantis spokesperson Fred Piccolo told CNN that “the governor’s office had no involvement, no knowledge, no nothing, of this investigation.” He added that the law enforcement department launched an investigation into the message before anyone knew about Jones’ alleged involvement.
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After reviewing evidence with her attorneys, Jones says she doesn’t think the state is after her but wants to get to her sources.
Among the devices taken by officers were flash drives that Jones told CNN contained “proof that (state officials) were lying in January about things like internal reports and notices from the CDC,” as well as “evidence of illegal activities by the state.” She said that she accessed those reports legally and some had been sent to her by other people after she left the state government.
Monday’s raid is the latest confrontation between Jones and the agency where she once worked.
Jones once served as the geographic information systems manager in the health department’s Division of Disease Control and Health Protection. She claims she was fired in May for refusing to manipulate COVID-19 data.
The story made national headlines and top Florida Democrats called for an investigation.
But DeSantis downplayed Jones’ role in developing the health department’s COVID-19 online dashboard, saying she isn’t an epidemiologist and accusing her of insubordination.
The administration also brought to the media’s attention criminal charges that had been filed against Jones last year.
A review of Leon County court documents shows that Jones was charged in July 2019 with two counts of cyberstalking and one count of sexual cyber harassment. According to court records, one of the cyberstalking cases against Jones is still open. She told CNN the misdemeanor case involved a blog post she posted in an online group for women who had been in abusive relationships.
Jones filed a whistleblower complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations in July.
There’s also fallout from this way this investigation is being handled.
The video and search warrant affidavit also didn’t sit well with GOP Sarasota lawyer Ron Filipkowski.
Gov. DeSantis appointed him to the 12th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission.
On Tuesday, the lawyer resigned and cited the Jones investigation and the governor’s handling of the pandemic as his reasons. He spoke on CNN.
The idea FDLE would do a raid like this without clearing it with the governor’s office, there’s just no way,” Filipkowski said. “It’s not only meant to intimidate and silence Ms. Jones, but to intimidate and silence others in the administration.”
The 30 second video got the attention of Democratic State Sen. Annette Taddeo, who represents Southwest Miami-Dade.
“We got a situation where they show up at a home and draw guns for a data break. This is outrageous.” State Sen Taddeo said. “I really felt like am I really watching something happening in the United States or in Cuba.”
Other Democrats had similar reactions on Twitter.
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