Florida state police, with their guns drawn, seized a computer and phone during a Monday raid at the home of a former state government scientist who was fired earlier this year for challenging the state’s coronavirus pandemic response.
State police are accusing Rebekah Jones, a former data scientist with the Florida Department of Health who was fired in May—allegedly for refusing to manipulate data—of hacking into an emergency communications channel for government officials last month to send an unauthorized message to around 1,750 people, according to the Washington Post and the Tampa Bay Times.
The November 10 message asked members of the state emergency response team to “speak up before another 17,000 people are dead,” according to the Tampa Bay Times. Jones denied the allegation during a CNN interview Monday, saying: “I am not a hacker. As the governor pointed out many months ago, I’m not that tech-savvy.”
In a tweet posted Monday afternoon, Rebekah Jones shared a video of police coming into her house as she exits with her hands up. The officers from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement—the state police—ask who else is home and she says her husband and children. The officers draw their handguns while ordering Jones’ husband and children down the stairs.
“Do not point that gun at my children,” Jones can be heard saying. “He just pointed a gun at my children.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Jones initially refused to let them in. “Ms. Jones refused to come to the door for 20 minutes and hung up on [the] agent,’' the FLDE said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times. “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.”
Jones said in a Twitter thread Monday afternoon that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was trying to silence her.
“This was DeSantis. He sent the gestapo,” she tweeted. During the CNN interview, Jones said that police left a number of laptops and her router and only took her computer and phone, which she said has “every communication I’ve ever had with someone who works at the state who has come to me in confidence and told me things that could get them fired.”
Jones was fired from the Florida Department of Health in May after she allegedly refused requests from superiors to manipulate data in the COVID data portal she helped build. Jones says she was asked to make changes that would make it look like the state was ready to reopen, by changing the state’s positivity rating from 18 percent to 10 percent. She said superiors also asked her to delete a “report card” showing that only two of the state’s 67 counties were ready to reopen at the time. The DeSantis administration has claimed that she was fired for insubordination.
Jones has filed a whistleblower complaint with the state seeking to be reinstated to her job and given back pay, though she said Monday she’s looking for a job outside the state. After her firing, Jones launched her own COVID-19 dashboard tracking Florida’s cases.
Jones said Monday that she would acquire new computer hardware and continue updating the site. “I'll have a new computer tomorrow,” she tweeted. “And then I'm going to get back to work.”