Florida COVID data whistleblower says state police confiscated computers in armed raid

COVID data science whistleblower Rebekah Jones said armed officers from Florida's state police agency raided her home and took computers. Photo courtesy of Florida Department of Law Enforcement

Dec. 8 (UPI) — The home of a former Florida Department of Health data scientist who was fired from her job running the state’s COVID-19 data dashboard was raided by state police Monday, according to a Twitter post.

“There will be no update today,” Tallahassee geospatial data scientist Rebekah Jones tweeted Monday evening. “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.”

Jones posted video from a home surveillance camera that appeared to show armed officers entering her home and demanding that she and her two children and husband leave the house.

“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,” she added. “They took evidence of corruption at the state level. They claimed it was about a security breach. This was [Gov.] DeSantis. He sent the gestapo.”

Jones’s home was raided under a search warrant from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as part of an investigation that started Nov. 10, the department said in a statement on their Facebook Page.

The Department of Health filed a complaint alleging that Jones had breached an emergency messaging alert system and had “illegally accessed the system,” the statement said.

“Agents knocked and called Ms. Jones both announcing the search warrant and encouraging her to cooperate. Ms. Jones refused to come to the door for 20 minutes and hung-up on agents,” the FLDE said.

“Agents entered the home in accordance with normal protocols and seized several devices that will be forensically analyzed,” the department statement added. “At no time were weapons pointed at anyone in the home.”

No charges have been filed against Jones.

Jones denied hacking the system.

“I have never had access to that system,” she told the Sun Sentinel on Monday. “I am not a hacker. I do data statistics and analysis.”

In early 2020, as the coronavirus begin to spread across the United States, Jones built the state of Florida’s first COVID-19 data reporting system, which drew praise from many, including Deborah Birx from the White House coronavirus task force.

But she was fired by the state in May for “insubordination” after publicly complaining that state officials were pressuring her to fudge the data.

Jones then developed an alternate COVID-19 dashboard that expanded on some of the state data and also reported hospital bed availability.

She filed a whistleblower report against the Florida Department of Health, saying that she was terminated for refusing to falsify data. She blamed Gov. Ron DeSantis for wanting to hide true COVID-19 case numbers to keep the state open while others were in lockdown mode.

“My public firing in May sent a message to DOH employees that questioning the direction of the governor would lead to public shame, embarrassment and, yes, termination,” Jones wrote in a July editorial to the Miami Herald.

On Monday, Jones said she would not be deterred from her work by threats.

“This does not shut me down,” she said. “If [DeSantis] didn’t learn the first time he tried to defame and threaten me that it didn’t work, he’s about to learn it now.”

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