Coronavirus whistleblower Rebekah Jones has sued Florida, alleging that state police violated her constitutional rights of free speech and due process when they raided her home earlier this month.
On December 7, agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) carried out a search warrant on 30-year-old Jones’ Tallahassee home, while she, her husband their two young children were inside.
Just two weeks after the incident, Jones filed a complaint late Sunday in Leon County Circuit Court, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
The filing alleges that the basis of the search warrant was ‘a sham’ used to punish her for speaking out against Gov Ron DeSantis for ‘refusing to falsify statistics on a “dashboard” she had created for (the Department of Health)’.
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Coronavirus whistleblower Rebekah Jones has sued Florida, alleging that state police violated her constitutional rights of free speech and due process when they raided her home earlier this month
On December 7, agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) carried out a search warrant on 30-year-old Jones’ (pictured during the raid) Tallahassee home, while she, her husband their two young children were inside
On Sunday, Jones filed a lawsuit claiming that the basis of the search warrant was ‘a sham’ used to punish her for speaking out against Gov Ron DeSantis for ‘refusing to falsify statistics’ for the state’s coronavirus cases
According to the Tampa Bay Times, the complaint is asking the court to order that her computers and other electronic equipment seized by the state be returned immediately.
Her lawsuit is also seeking punitive damages of more than $30,000 be awarded.
The complaint claims that the state of Florida violated Jones’ 14th Amendment right to due process by issuing an ‘overly broad’ search warrant that lacks probable cause.
‘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,’ the complaint says.
‘That was the motive for obtaining the search warrant, not the ridiculous notion that FDLE believed Plaintiff sent the message at issue and that it would have been illegal so to do.’
Jones was a state health department data scientist credited with leading a team in the creation Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard early on in the pandemic, before she was fired.
She claims that she was asked to leave in May because she refused to manipulate the state’s infection numbers. But DeSantis has said she was fired because of ‘insubordination’.
After her firing, Jones filed a whistleblower complaint and created her own COVID-19 dashboard, using information she receives from sources.
Last week, she told the Daily Beast’s The New Abnormal podcast: ‘I thought back in May or June, when I first launched the new dashboard, that DeSantis would send people to come get me.’
She said she believed that the reason why DeSantis would send people to ‘come and get’ her was because of the complaint she filed, which claimed that the state was manipulating its coronavirus statistics, breaking the law and asking her to break the law as well.
Video from the December 7 raid on her house shows at least one officer pulling out his gun while entering Jones’ home after she opened the door and told them that her children were inside.
Jones told the Daily Beast that she was ‘prepared to be arrested’ and that she felt ‘nothing’ when a gun was near her face, despite having always assumed that it would be a terrifying experience.
Jones (left) filed a whistleblower complaint after she claimed she was fired for refusing to manipulate coronavirus data. DeSantis (right) said it was over ‘insubordination’
But, rather than being arrested, officers confiscated her cell phone and laptop as part of what they said was a cyber crimes investigation.
Jones has been under investigation since November, when someone illegally hacked Florida’s emergency alert health system and sent a message from it. She has denied involvement in the incident.
Jones said that after being left alone for nearly half a year since her firing and starting up her own coronavirus dashboard, she thought she was just being ignored.
In the wake of the raid, however, she believes that she was targeted, and she suspects authorities took her computer and phone as part of the effort to figure out who in the department of health has been giving her information.
‘They’re purging everybody who’s disloyal’, she said.
DeSantis’ office told the Tallahassee Democrat that the governor didn’t know about the raid on Jones’ house before it happened and that he hadn’t been involved in the investigation into her.
Jones is skeptical about that, as she notes that the FDLE supposedly reports in to DeSantis’ office and the search warrant was reported to be the first search warrant that Judge Joshua Hawkes – who was sworn in in November – had ever signed.
‘I don’t personally know the man, I’m not a connected person, but to be the most recent [Florida governor Ron] Desantis employee assigned to family court, and to have this be the first thing that you sign off on, I think that speaks for itself,’ Jones told CNN earlier this month.
She told the Daily Beast that she didn’t think she was the ‘main target’ of the raid, but that ‘harassing me and taking all my gear was just an added benefit to that’.
Jones claimed in the interview that the state is continuing to under report both coronavirus-related hospitalizations and deaths and allegedly going so far as to delete some deaths from their tracker.
She said: ‘They’ve deleted people, [from the tracker], including children.
‘When I drew attention to the fact that a 2-year-old died in Escambia County, in Florida, less than two weeks after he was diagnosed and hospitalized for it, they reported him as a death.
‘And as soon as I tweeted about it, and there was a big press reaction, they deleted it. They actually changed his dead status from yes to no.’
Since the raid, Jones has been focusing on sharing the message about the number of new coronavirus cases being reported amongst kindergarten to 12th grade students, teachers and other school workers.
The information she is using to build the school-related coronavirus dashboard comes from anonymous sources, which she is determined to protect. The regular dashboard information comes from public sources.
DeSantis has been in favor of students returning to in-person classes during the pandemic.