Judge delays decision to return computer to Rebekah Jones

Published: Jan. 13, 2021 at 4:56 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 13, 2021 at 8:00 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Rebekah Jones - the woman at the center of Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard controversy - was in court Wednesday trying to get back a computer seized in a Florida Department of Law Enforcement raid.

Jones is suing FDLE in civil court, claiming the search warrant served on her home in December was unconstitutional.

“It’s punishment for free speech,” Jones’ attorney told the judge.

FDLE says it is investigating Jones, claiming she may have illegally accessed the Florida Department of Health’s emergency message system.

Jones and her attorney appeared before Circuit Judge John Cooper Wednesday afternoon.

“Anybody in the world had the authority to use that network,” Jones’ attorney Rick Johnson told the judge.

Johnson said the user ID and password for the message board was featured on the DOH website in seven different places.

Johnson said nearly two months into its investigation, FDLE has not charged Jones with a crime and has refused to return her $12,000 computer.

“They won’t fish. They won’t cut bait. They won’t bring a criminal charge and they won’t turn the property back,” Johnson said. “They’re sitting on all her attorney-client communications. They’re sitting on all her confidential sources and all the other whistleblowers who are collaborating with her.”

WCTV did reach out to FDLE to ask for an update on the Rebekah Jones investigation. FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plesinger said only “our case is active.” Plesinger would not respond to questions about the status of any criminal charges or whether anyone else was the subject of this investigation.

John Knox, who is representing FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen, argued Judge Cooper did not have jurisdiction in the case and that the judge who signed the warrant should be making this decision.

Judge Cooper wrapped up the hearing after two hours of legal arguments. He said there was probable cause for the search warrant, but he did not rule on whether to return Jones’ computer.

Judge Cooper says he’s “keeping it open” and wants to hear from FDLE, the State Attorney or both, before deciding whether Jones’ computer is evidence or if it should be returned.

“I don’t think they have to know exactly what they’re going to do with it two months out, but if they have decided that they’re not going to bring criminal charges, I need to know that,” Cooper said.

Cooper did not set a date for the hearing to continue.

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