Arrest warrant issued for ex-Florida data analyst Rebekah Jones

Update: Rebekah Jones attended the Leon County Detention Center and tested positive for the coronavirus.

The state has issued an arrest warrant for former data scientist Rebekah Jones.

Jones announced on Twitter on Saturday that she had learned about the warrant and planned to surrender on Sunday. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has confirmed the existence of an arrest warrant for Jones, but said it could not disclose the charges against her until she was in custody.

Agency spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said in an email to Tampa Bay weather that “agents worked with her lawyer to get her to surrender.”

Related: Rebekah Jones is suing Florida State Police over a raid on her home
Footage from a 30-second video of a Dec. 7 raid by state agents at the home of Rebekah Jones, a former employee of the Florida Department of Health, in Tallahassee. [ Twitter ]

Jones has previously handled Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard. Then she was fired in May from her position as Geographic Information System Manager for the Disease Control and Health Protection Division of the Florida Department of Health.

She has since become a vocal critic of the state’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and related data.

The scientist tweeted on Saturday that her arrest warrant was linked to documents she received or downloaded from state sources while at the health ministry. Jones said she and her lawyer were not told why she was being prosecuted, just that she was facing a criminal charge.

After being fired by the state for “insubordination,” her Tallahassee home was raided by state agents on December 7 and her computers and other electronic equipment were seized. The state then said it likely had reason to believe she was behind an anonymous message to Department of Health employees urging them to “be a hero” and speak up about the coronavirus. Jones denied this.

Governor Ron DeSantis defended the state’s handling of the case. Jones filed a complaint with Leon County Circuit Court alleging state police raped her constitutional rights to freedom of expression and due process.

Related: Coronavirus data whistleblower hacked Florida emergency alert system? home police raid

Jones said on Saturday that a state agent told him the arrest warrant was unrelated to the December raid.

“FDLE found no evidence of a message sent last November to DOH staff telling them to ‘speak’ on one of the devices they took – the entire base of the raid on my house in December,” Jones tweeted. “Still, the state issued an arrest warrant for me, even though the ‘crime’ is unrelated to the warrant.”

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After being fired, Jones launched her own COVID-19 dashboard online. But she said on Saturday that she may no longer be allowed to access computers, the internet or other electronic devices as a condition of her release from prison pending trial.

“False accusations designed to silence me and now jail me for being a government-critical scientist,” she tweeted. “This is the classic definition of #censorship. “

Related: Florida investigation into COVID-19 whistleblower draws reprimands from Crist, others

Sean N. Ayres