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Rebekah Jones suing FDLE over raid

Published: Dec. 21, 2020 at 11:21 AM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Rebekah Jones, the data scientist who helped create Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard, is suing the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for raiding her home on Dec. 7.

The lawsuit filed Sunday says the basis for the search warrant was “a sham” to punish Jones for criticizing Florida’s transparency over coronavirus data throughout the pandemic.

“Her termination from the Florida Department of Health after refusing to falsify data generated a great deal of media coverage much to the dismay of the State,” the lawsuit says.

Jones says she was forced to resign after voicing concerns over being told to delete coronavirus data. The state says she was fired for insubordination.

The suit names as defendants FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen, FDLE ranking agent Noel Pratts, and an unidentified FDLE agent who grabbed Jones as she came out of her home.

FDLE says it carried out the raid following a complaint by the Florida Department of Health that a person illegally hacked into DOH’s emergency alert system. Investigators say they traced the breach to the IP address at Jones’ Tallahassee home.

Jones’ lawyers argue the raid was carried out because of Governor DeSantis’ “antagonism” toward Jones.

“What they want to do, is they want to shut down her operation,” said attorney Rick Johnson.

“DeSantis has been openly furious about Plaintiff’s work because it exposes the ongoing falsification, suppression, and misleading that are salient features of the State’s data reporting about COVID-19,” the suit claims. “FDLE, seeking to ingratiate itself to DeSantis, sought to silence Plaintiff’s online speech by confiscating her computer and to discover her confidential sources and other information by seizing her cell phone. That was the motive for obtaining the search warrant...”

In a statement, Swearingen defended FDLE’s actions.

“As I have said before, I am proud of the professionalism shown by our FDLE agents as they served a legal search warrant on the residence of Rebekah Jones. Our criminal investigation continues, and while I have not seen this lawsuit, I believe the facts will come out in court,” Swearingen said

WCTV has also reached out to the governor’s office seeking comment on the litigation. We are waiting to hear back.

Jones posted a video of the FDLE raid to Twitter the day it happened, receiving more than 130,000 retweets and 10 million views since it was posted.

In the same Twitter thread, Jones said “This was DeSantis. He sent the gestapo.”

Jones claimed the agents pointed guns at her children during the raid. The lawsuit says agents pointed their guns up the stairs as they rushed into the home. Jones’ husband was at the top of the stairs holding their 2-year-old daughter, with their 11-year-old boy at his side, according to the complaint.

“The agents lowered the guns to let them descend. The family members were terrified and traumatized,” the lawsuit says.

Jones’ lawyers allege that the FDLE violated her First, Fourth and 14th Amendment rights, as well as state law, in the raid.

“It’s a violation of the First Amendment for shutting down her communications operation and retaliating against her for her protected speech. B, it’s a violation of the Fourth Amendment for the unlawful search and seizure. C it’s a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment because it’s a deprivation of liberty and property without due process of law,” said Johnson.

Johnson says Jones did not send the alleged e-mail; he added that even if she did, it would not have broken the law.

“The Department of Health website, up until the 10th of December, when all the newspapers started reporting about it, had 7 places where they listed the user ID and the password,” said Johnson.

Johnson also took issue with the way FDLE connected Jones to the message.

In the complaint, he writes that FDLE Agent Noel Pratts said he traced the message “through the uses of investigative resources.”

Johnson says that’s not specific enough for a warrant.

“You have to say exactly how you connected her. His investigative sources could have been an Ouija board. It could have been a tarot deck,” said Johnson.

You can read the full complaint below or at this link.

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