Rebekah Jones: Trial of fired Florida Covid data scientist calls home search ‘retaliation’

Rebekah Jones Alleges Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) officials violated her First Amendment rights, deprived her of due process, and unlawfully seized her computers, cell phone and storage media during a search of her home on December 7, according to the complaint. Sunday.

The lawsuit also alleges that an anonymous FDLE agent grabbed Jones’ midsection “without consent, authorization or lawful basis” during the search.

The FDLE said it was investigating whether Jones accessed a state messaging system without permission to call state officials to “talk” about coronavirus deaths. Officials traced this message to an IP address linked to Jones’ home, according to a search warrant affidavit.

Jones, who was fired from the Florida Department of Health in May and has repeatedly criticized Gov. Ron DeSantis’ handling of the coronavirus crisis, denied sending such a message.

Jones’ lawsuit claims the basis of the search warrant was “a sham to punish her” for “protected speech.”

The lawsuit says IP addresses are generally “spoofed” and refers to news articles that revealed that the system username and password of the message that triggered the investigation was publicly available on the site. Ministry of Health website.

Under Florida law, “no reasonable officer would consider access to the site a crime,” the lawsuit says.

“FDLE, seeking to make itself understood by DeSantis, sought to silence the complainant’s online speech by confiscating her computer and uncovering her confidential sources and other information by seizing her cell phone,” the lawsuit said.

Jones asked the court to order the return of his property and award damages.

FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen, named as a defendant in the lawsuit, said FDLE agents acted correctly when they executed the search warrant.

“I am proud of the professionalism shown by our FDLE agents in serving a lawful search warrant at Rebekah Jones’ residence. Our criminal investigation continues, and although I have not seen this trial, I believes the facts will be revealed in court, “Swearingen said in a statement Monday.

The FDLE released body camera footage which showed that approximately 23 minutes had elapsed between when officers first rang Jones’s door to execute the search warrant and when Jones opened the door. door of his Tallahassee home.

State officials said in May Jones was fired because she “exhibited a repeated course of insubordination” and modified a state data portal without input or approval epidemiologists or his supervisors. Jones has argued that she was fired after refusing to tamper with state coronavirus data.

Jones filed a whistleblower complaint in July with the Florida Commission on Human Relations. The complaint remains pending.

Sean N. Ayres