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FL Whistleblower Rebekah Jones Sues, Claims Seizure of Computer Equipment Was "Retaliation"

Florida Whistleblower outside her front door with hands up.

TALLAHASSEE, FL – Former Florida Department of Health (FDOH) data manager Rebekah Jones has filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), claiming the search warrant served at her home and the seizure of her equipment were designed to “punish” her for filing a whistleblower complaint against the state.

According to the lawsuit, which was filed Sunday in Leon County Court, Jones’ attorneys Rick Johnson of Tallahassee and Lawrence Walters of Tampa maintain the search warrant and seizure violated her First, Fourth and 14th amendments rights.

Jones is seeking damages of more than $30,000, according to the lawsuit, which states, “On Dec. 7, 2020, Plaintiff Rebekah Jones awoke to the sound of law enforcement pounding on her door. They entered her home with guns drawn, terrorizing her family. They were there to execute a search warrant for her electronics devices; however the basis of the warrant was a sham to punish Plaintiff for her protected speech.”

The lawsuit, which names FDLE Secretary Rick Swearingen, FDLE agent Noel Pratts and “FDLE Agent John Doe” as individual plaintiffs in addition to the agency, claims the search warrant was a “raid” to harass Jones “after refusing to falsify data generated a great deal of media coverage much to the dismay of the state.”

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

She filed a whistleblower complaint in July against the state, operates a website that tracks COVID-19 and is an outspoken critic of Gov. Ron DeSantis on social media and cable news outlets.

Jones’ whistleblower complaint is with the Florida Commission on Human Relations and “on the verge of ripening for eligibility to take to court,” her lawsuit notes, stating the FDOH fired her “for refusing to falsify statistics on a ‘dashboard’ she had created for DOH.”

According to the lawsuit, “plaintiff’s firing captured a great deal of media attention nationally and in Florida, much of it negative toward Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely believed to have had a hand in the firing.”

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

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

Jones denies she sent the message and claims the motivation for the “tech” seizure was to uncover an anonymous source in the FDOH. Walters has told reporters the raid was “retaliation” to undermine her whistleblower lawsuit.

Jones posted a video of the raid on Twitter, and it was viewed 10 million times by Friday afternoon. “They pointed a gun in my face," Jones tweeted. "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.”

The FDLE has released two videos of the warrant being executed. The first video showed officers knocking on Jones’ door and asking her to come outside. In the second video, officers gained entry and the search warrant is executed.

FDLE “agents have been vilified over the past few days regarding the legal search warrant,” Swearingen said in a statement. “Because of inaccurate and incomplete statements given by certain individuals, the body camera video taken from outside the home is being made available.”

DeSantis has defended the investigation and said the videos confirm agents were ”very respectful.” He objected to reporters characterizing the search warrant as a “raid.”

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

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