Rebekah Jones, the Florida data scientist whose Tallahassee home was raided by gun-wielding cops earlier this month, has filed suit against the Florida Department of Law Enforcement over the “sham” raid, alleging it was carried out in retaliation for her work as a COVID-19 whistleblower.
The suit, filed Sunday, accuses FDLE of violating Jones’ First Amendment right to freedom of speech, and unlawful search and seizure. Jones is also accusing one of the responding officers of battery for his nonconsensual and unnecessarily hands-on contact during the raid.
Officers raided Jones’ house on Dec. 7 and seized her cell phone, computers and other tech hardware she uses to maintain an independent public-facing database tracking COVID-19 infections in Florida.
She’s kept the dashboard live since May, when she was fired from her job as a state data scientist after she said she refused a request from her superiors to manipulate numbers in the state’s official database. The information they asked her to post would have overcounted the number of coronavirus tests performed and undercounted the total number of cases as Florida rushed to reopen its economy, Jones has said. She’s also said that she was asked to remove evidence of people testing positive for the virus in January.
FDLE maintains the seized devices are essential evidence in an investigation into an unauthorized message sent to Department of Health employees last month, which encouraged them “to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead.”
Jones says she didn’t send the message and that an IP address implicating her in its transmission was “spoofed.”
The suit notes that access to the private alert system was woefully insecure: The Department of Health had published the email and password “in at least seven pdf files that were widely available on the internet to anyone who had the address.”
Instead of a legitimate search, the suit alleges the raid was “a sham to punish” her for “protected speech” and to identify her confidential sources.
“FDLE, seeking to ingratiate itself to [Florida’s Republican Governor Ron] 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 suit reads.
The suit alleges that Jones was a particularly alluring target for such a raid. Unlike large news outlets like the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, which, like Jones, has also called out falsified and manipulated COVID-19 data, “it was easier to contrive an excuse to raid the home of a solo publisher like [Jones] than to raid the offices of a major newspaper or TV network in search of the identity of those confidential sources.”
DeSantis’ office didn’t respond to a request for comment.