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Raid On Home of Rebekah Jones, Former FL DOH Data Scientist Spurs Calls for Investigation

FDLE, Florida's FBI, leads Rebekah Jones out of her house, then pointed guns at her kids
Screen shot of Rebekah Jones Twitter video | Observer graphic

TALLAHASSEE, FL – Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, state Rep. Shevrin Jones and U.S. Rep. Charlie Christ are among Democrats lambasting the raid on the home of a former data scientist who filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the state and frequently criticizes Gov. Ron DeSantis as a political stunt and calling for investigations.

Unexpected, however, was the resignation of a DeSantis appointee to the 12th Circuit Judicial Nomination Commission who called the raid “unconscionable” and legal experts questioning why a raid was necessary to gather evidence for what amounts to sending an unauthorized message to a group chat.

Former Florida Department of Health (FDOH) geographic information system manager Rebekah Jones’ Tallahassee home was raided Monday by Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) investigators who seized her laptops and phone.

According to FDLE, investigators found an IP address tied to Jones’ home while investigating a Nov. 10 breach of the Division of Emergency Management’s (DEM) messaging platform in which 1,750 Emergency Response Team (ERT) members received a message urging them to “speak up before another 17,000 people are dead.”

Jones was fired in May for unauthorized public comments and insubordination after claiming in a mass email to FDOH COVID-19 dashboard subscribers the state was manipulating data.

She filed a whistleblower complaint against the state in July, operates a website – The COVID Monitor, which tracks the disease in Florida and in schools nationwide – and is an outspoken DeSantis critic.

Jones posted a Twitter video of the raid, tweeting to 300,000 followers, “They pointed a gun in my face. They pointed guns at my kids. They took evidence of corruption at the state level. They claimed it was about a security breach. This was DeSantis. He sent the gestapo.”

Jones denies she sent the Nov. 10 message and claims the seizure of her “tech” is to uncover who her anonymous source – or sources – are in the FDOH. Her attorney, Lawrence Walters, said the raid “could be retaliation” for her criticism of DeSantis and to undermine her whistleblower lawsuit.

DeSantis spokesperson Fred Piccolo said Tuesday it was “absurd” to claim the governor orchestrated the raid, noting he “had no involvement, no knowledge, no nothing, of this investigation.”

“The FDLE investigated for weeks, culminating in the identification of the residence of the individual(s) involved,” Piccolo said. “Only at that time would it have been known to be Ms. Jones’ home.”

The warrant to seize Jones’ equipment remains under seal, leaving the Nov. 3 search warrant affidavit as the only document outlining the state’s probable cause for the raid.

Jones is being investigated for violating Florida’s ambiguous “hacking” statute, but what the FDLE claims she did was gain “unauthorized access” to DEM’s platform, which allows access to all users with the same username and password.

After reviewing the affidavit, Ron Filipkowski, a former general counsel to the Sarasota County Republican Party, resigned Tuesday from the 12th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission, where he had served for a decade after appointments by DeSantis and former Gov. Rick Scott.

“I have been increasingly alarmed by the governor’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Filipkowski wrote in his resignation letter, in which he described the response as “reckless and irresponsible.”

A Marine veteran, former state and federal prosecutor and a lifelong Republican, Filipkowski said the only justification he can conjure for the raid is to silence “people who are trying to tell the truth.”

“Even if the facts alleged are true, I would still call (Jones) a hero,” he wrote. “I also find Mr. Piccolo’s statements that the governor was unaware of the raid not credible.”

This piece appeared in the The Center Square and was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license. Images and layout added by the Observer.

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