Fired Florida Data Scientist Seeks Relief From Courts Following FDLE Computer Seizures
Former state data scientist Rebekah Jones is suing the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) after agents carried out a search warrant as part of an investigation into an unauthorized login to the Florida Department of Health’s messaging system. Agents entered her home with guns drawn but lowered them when they determined her husband and children weren’t a threat. The lawsuit alleges Jones’s family was terrified and traumatized from the ordeal.
Agents took her electronic devices, and now Jones is suing the FDLE to get her belongings back. She’s also asking FDLE to delete any copies they made of materials found on those devices. Her electronics were seized during the raid as part of FDLE’s ongoing investigation. Rick Johnson is one of three attorneys representing Jones in the lawsuit.
“They believed that she had posted a message on a department of health message board. She was not the one who did it,” Johnson says.
The lawsuit claims the warrant was a “sham” to punish Jones for speaking out against the state. Jones claims her employer asked her to falsify data on Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard, a public tracking tool of the state’s COVID-19 cases. After she came forward, her allegations drew national attention. Now, she operates her own COVID-19 tracker. The department has maintained Jones was fired for insubordination.
“And so, what they did was shut down her business. And her business was maintaining a COVID website that has truthful and accurate information, whereas the one that she was fired for refusing to falsify—that’s run by department of health—has inaccurate and false information. So that was what they wanted to do. And she has confidential sources in state government that she communicates with all the time that give her information, and they wanted to find out who they were, and so they seized her cellphone which would have had those names and communications in it,” Johnson says.
He says the state violated Jones’s First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as state law. The lawsuit alleges an officer committed battery on Jones during the raid.
“While Plaintiff stood with her hands up on her doorstep after exiting her home, he, for no legitimate purpose, committed a battery on Plaintiff by repeatedly running his hands up and down her ribs and by gripping and holding her sides,” the lawsuit reads.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has defended FDLE's handling of the case, and in an earlier statement following the agency's execution of the search warrant, FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen praised officers for how they conducted the search.
"This video demonstrates that FDLE agents exercised extreme patience," Swearingen said after the agency released video of the search following Jones' claims.
"Search warrants are one of the most dangerous events a law enforcement officer will engage in and many officers are killed each year during the execution of search warrants. No search warrant is routine or without potential officer safety issues regardless of the underlying crime. Agents afforded Ms. Jones ample time to come to the door and resolve this matter in a civil and professional manner. As this video will demonstrate, any risk or danger to Ms. Jones or her family was the result of her actions."