Saturday, May 15, 2021

Florida police raid home of Rebekah Jones, fired state data scientist

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida police brandishing firearms raided the home of Rebekah Jones, the former state Department of Health employee who built the state’s much-praised COVID-19 dashboard before being fired over what she said was refusing to manipulate data.

“They pointed a gun in my face. They pointed guns at my kids,” Jones tweeted shortly before 5 p.m. Monday.

Jones said the agents knocked on her door around 8:30 a.m., took all her “hardware and tech” after showing her a warrant based on a complaint filed by the Florida Department of Health.

A video accompanying the post shows Florida Department of Law Enforcementagents in vests entering the house with guns drawn, calling for her husband to come down the stairs. When an agent told her to calm down, Jones said, “He just pointed a gun at my children!”

FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger sent a statement confirming the seizure of computer equipment at Jones’ Tallahassee home and said agents are investigating.

“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,” Plessinger said.

Plessinger said when agents arrived, they knocked and waited for Jones to answer the door.

“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,” Plessinger said. “Ms. Jones’ family was upstairs when agents made entry into the home.”

The investigation is active, she added.

“As in all cases, our role is to determine the facts of what happened and a State Attorney determines whether or not charges are filed.”

Jones told a USA TODAY Network-Florida reporter she is not a hacker.

“I don’t know how to do that stuff,” she said.

Jones was fired for insubordination in May after being reprimanded several times, state officials said. Her paperwork doesn’t state a cause for her being fired. But she claims she was fired for refusing to manipulate health data to cast Florida in a more favorable light.

She tweeted: “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. This was (Gov. DeSantis. He sent the gestapo.”

Jones also said she has backups of the data and files that power her websites that were stored on the seized hardware.

“This is what happens to scientists who do their job honestly,” Jones tweeted. “This is what happens to people who speak truth to power.”

This breaking news story is developing.

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