The architect of Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard—who claims she was fired from her job at the state Department of Health because she refused to manipulate data—said Monday that her home was raided by armed police who took her computer and “pointed guns” at her kids.
But authorities say the raid at Rebekah Jones’ home was part of an investigation into an alleged hack into the state’s emergency response system, according to an affidavit obtained by The Daily Beast.
In a stunning Twitter thread, Jones said state police raided her Centerville Court home on Monday morning and “took all my hardware and tech” after a complaint was filed by the Department of Health over a security breach.
“They took my phone and the computer I use every day to post the case numbers in Florida, and school cases for the entire country,” Jones wrote. “They took evidence of corruption at the state level. They claimed it was about a security breach. This was DeSantis. He sent the gestapo.”
An affidavit for the search warrant, however, states Jones has been under investigation since November after someone illegally accessed the Department of Health’s emergency messaging system and urged recipients to “speak up before another 17,000 people are dead. You know this is wrong. You don’t have to be a part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it’s too late.”
The 31-year-old has emerged as a vociferous critic of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ handling of the pandemic since she was fired in May after creating the Sunshine State’s interactive COVID-19 dashboard. After her dismissal, Jones started compiling her own COVID-19 data to create a new dashboard to track the ongoing pandemic.
“This is what happens to scientists who do their job honestly,” she tweeted Monday.
“This is what happens to people who speak truth to power. I tell them my husband and my two children are upstairs...and THEN one of them draws his gun On my children,” she added. “This is Desantis’ Florida.”
Jones did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s multiple requests for comment.
A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed to The Daily Beast that a search warrant was served at Jones’ Tallahassee home on Monday as part of an ongoing investigation into a complaint “regarding unauthorized access to a Department of Health messaging system which is part of an emergency alert system, to be used for emergencies only.”
The affidavit said the investigation began on Nov. 10 after the phony alert was sent to approximately 1,750 individuals before “the software vendor was able to stop the message from being transmitted.”
While the Florida Department of Health has several groups within its associated with its emergency messaging system, all users from one of the groups—StateESF8—share the same username and password. The affidavit states investigators obtained a log of all the IP addresses for users who accessed the messaging system through StateESF8.
There, the affidavit states, investigators found one IP address belonging to a resident in Centerville Court who had accessed the system—one with the same address and email as Jones.
Authorities say officers knocked on Jones’ door and called her “in an attempt to minimize disruption to the family,” but she “refused to come to the door for 20 minutes and hung up on agents.”
“After several attempts and verbal notifications that law enforcement officers were there to serve a legal search warrant, Ms. Jones eventually came to the door and allowed agents to enter,” the spokesperson said. “Our investigation is active. As in all cases, our role is to determine the facts of what happened and a State Attorney determines whether or not charges are filed.”
The affidavit states the search warrant requested all computer hardware, cellphones, personal computers, internal and peripheral storage devices, and all documents with passwords and access codes to conduct an off-site search and analysis to see if any information was stolen.
Jones also released a 31-second video of the raid, which shows police demanding her to “step outside” before asking her who else is inside the house. With her arms raised, Jones states her husband and two children are upstairs, at which point officers tell her family to “come down the stairs now.” Two officers then raise their guns toward the stairwell.
“Why are you pointing that at my children,” Jones is heard yelling in the video. “He just pointed a gun at my children!”
The raid comes just eight months after Jones alleged to several news outlets that she was removed from her position as Geographic Information Systems manager for refusing to change data that would “drum up support for the plan to reopen” the state amid the ongoing pandemic, which has killed 19,176 Floridians so far.
Despite Jones’ insistence, she was removed one day after she refused to “manually change data,” DeSantis has said the data scientist’s ouster was the result of her repeated insubordination.
“What she was doing is she was putting data on the portal which the scientists didn’t believe was valid data,” DeSantis said during a May press briefing featuring Vice President Mike Pence. “So she didn’t listen to the people who were her superiors.”
In July, Jones filed a whistleblower complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations, alleging the health department fired her in retaliation for her refusal to manipulate data. And in an August interview with The Daily Beast, Jones revealed that despite her termination from the Department of Health, she is still continuing to gather data on coronavirus cases and sharing it with the public. She said she built her own version of the Florida dashboard as a way to share accurate data.
Florida’s COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard provides daily updates on the number of deaths, new cases, and tests for every county in the state. Seen as one of the leading trackers in the state, the portal was heavily relied upon by officials, academics, and residents looking for an overall picture of the Sunshine State’s outbreak.
Jones said she hoped her new dashboard would help everyone, from parents to students to school board members to health officials, wrap their heads around tough choices in the midst of the pandemic.
“I started building it more than two weeks ago,” Jones told The Daily Beast on Aug. 24. “I want to make the data available to epidemiologists, researchers, school districts, and even governments. It’s always been my mission to give people the information they need to make informed decisions.”
On Monday, Jones stressed that despite the police raid she is “going to get back to work” on her new dashboard, Florida COVID Action. A spokesperson for DeSantis did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“If Desantis thought pointing a gun in my face was a good way to get me to shut up, he’s about to learn just how wrong he was,” she tweeted. “I’ll have a new computer tomorrow. And then I’m going to get back to work.”