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Ousted Florida COVID-19 data curator says she’s being targeted by Gov. DeSantis

A raid at a former Florida Department of Health employee’s home is raising eyebrows after a viral video shows state investigators serving a search warrant on former COVID-19 data curator Rebekah Jones.
A raid at a former Florida Department of Health employee’s home is raising eyebrows after a viral video shows state investigators serving a search warrant on former COVID-19 data curator Rebekah Jones.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A raid at a former Florida Department of Health employee’s home is raising eyebrows after a viral video shows state investigators serving a search warrant on former COVID-19 data curator Rebekah Jones.

On Tuesday, Jones responded to the warrant and criticized the way agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement entered her home.

“I tell them my husband and my two children are upstairs... and THEN one of them draws his gun,” Jones tweeted along with a video of the raid.

FDLE agents countered, saying they never pointed the gun at anyone.

A 31-second video from Jones, released on Twitter, shows agents entering her Tallahassee home with guns drawn after she answers the door.

“Police search warrant,” the agents said.

“He just pointed a gun at my children,” screamed a visibly upset Jones, who had been guided out of her house. She said her 2-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son were upstairs with her husband.

FDLE agents were serving a warrant at the former state COVID-19 dashboard administrator’s home Monday after claiming someone with her IP address hacked into a system and sent out a message blast to Department of Health employees asking them to speak up.

“It’s time to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead,” the message said, according to an affidavit from an FDLE investigator. “You know this is wrong. You don’t have to be part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it’s too late.”

“I didn’t even know there was a message sent,” Jones said on Tuesday in an interview with News4Jax state capital reporter Mike Vasilinda. “I didn’t even know what it said until yesterday.”

Jones believes Gov. Ron DeSantis is out to get her after she spoke out, claiming Florida’s coronavirus data was inaccurate. She was fired in May for insubordination, according to DeSantis.

“I knew at some time that the governor was going to come after me,” she commented. “I accepted that tangoing with a powerful corrupt governor was going to have consequences. I was ready to be arrested. I did not expect they would point guns at my kids.”

Jones was not arrested or charged, but her computer and phone were seized, which she says have sensitive information about other whistleblowers within state government.

News4Jax showed the video to former FBI supervisor Toni Chrabot, who now runs the consulting firm the Risk Confidence Group and News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson, a retired Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officer.

“You can never downplay the risks when you’re serving a warrant because you’re going into the unknown,” Jefferson said after watching the video.

“As soon as they come in the house, they don’t know who else is in the house for sure,” Chrabot said. “And as soon as they enter the house, here’s a staircase. And a staircase is a very dangerous scenario for law-enforcement. Anybody at the top of the stairs has the advantage.”

While they agree on the dangers, Chrabot said the operation was handled just right, while Jefferson thinks they could have been more careful.

“This is a daytime search warrant, it’s not in the middle of the night, it is clearly daylight here, they knocked, they announced, she answered the door, they entered, they said about clearing the house safely for their own safety and for the people inside,” Chrabot noted.

“They are forceful with their language, but they are very casual with their actions,” said Jefferson. “You just pull everybody out, make sure that their hands are cleared of anything, any weapons or anything else, and you pull them out, let them stay outside in a safe area while you search the house.”

Since her firing, she has lit up social media with posts criticizing DeSantis and his state agencies. For months, she has tried to promote herself as a victim who was fired for telling the truth, although there is no evidence that supports her claims.

Early in the pandemic, Jones wrote blog posts and reached out to media outlets and researchers sowing doubt about the credibility of the data. She said Health Department managers urged her to manipulate information to paint a rosier picture and that she pushed back. The data was crucial as the governor was trying to make highly controversial decisions on whether to reopen Florida’s economy.

State health officials deny any issue with the information’s accuracy.

The office of Gov. DeSantis declined to comment Monday night, but the Republican governor has previously said Jones had a pattern of “insubordination” and should have been fired sooner.

Agents served the search warrant on her Tallahassee home after receiving a complaint from the Department of Health regarding unauthorized access to its emergency alert system, according to a statement from FDLE.

“Agents believe someone at the residence on Centerville Court illegally accessed the system,” spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said in a statement.

Jones initially refused to answer the door for 20 minutes and hung up when agents called her, according to FDLE.

The FDLE statement states “at no time were weapons pointed at anyone in the home.”

More from FDLE:

“Our investigation began last month following a complaint by the Florida Department of Health that a person illegally hacked into their emergency alert system. As part of our investigation, FDLE agents served a search warrant this morning at the Centerville Court residence where Ms. Jones lives after determining the home was the location that the unauthorized message was sent from.

Agents knocked and called Ms. Jones both announcing the search warrant and encouraging her to cooperate. Ms. Jones refused to come to the door for 20 minutes and hung-up on agents.

After several attempts, Ms. Jones allowed agents inside. Agents entered the home in accordance with normal protocols and seized several devices that will be forensically analyzed. At no time were weapons pointed at anyone in the home. Any evidence will be referred to the State Attorney for prosecution as appropriate.”

A man appointed to a commission that recommends judicial appointments to DeSantis resigned Tuesday citing the search warrant served on a Jones.

Ron Filipowski announced his resignation from the 12th Circuit Judicial Nomination Commission on Twitter on Tuesday, saying a raid at the home of Jones was unconscionable.

About the Authors:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.