State

COVID-19 Whistleblower Rebekah Jones Drops Civil Case

On Dec. 7, 2020, Florida police raided the home of Florida Department of Health data analyst Rebekah Jones while her husband and two children were home. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement released body camera footage of the search, executed with a warrant, which shows police entering the home and taking Jones into custody.

Jones initiated her civil lawsuit alleging that the FDLE unconstitutionally searched her home and took her possessions, including a computer and other hardware.

After police raided her home in December, Jones filed a lawsuit against FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen and the rest of the department. Her 19-page complaint can be found here.

Jones’s lawyer Richard E. Johnson said she was dropping the case because Jones currently has a criminal lawsuit pending against her. In a notice to the federal court of Tallahassee, Jones’s attorneys said she was dropping the lawsuit “without prejudice,” meaning it is only dismissed temporarily and can be revisited at a later date.

On Jan. 17, Jones turned herself in to Florida police, tweeting she was doing it to protect her family.

“The governor will not win his war on science and free speech.  He will not silence those who speak out,” she wrote in the same tweet where she announced her intentions to protect her family. She continued in her following tweet, “All of this just to silence a critic of a governor who failed to do his job and got thousands killed as a result.”

Jones was arrested in January on the charge of illegally accessing a state computer system. According to the Miami Herald, the warrant against her alleged that she had accessed the contact information of 19,182 Florida residents included in the FDOH’s emergency operations network.

In May 2020, Jones was fired from her position as the head of Florida’s COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard, which was created by a group of FDOH data scientists headed by Jones. The issuing of Jones’s termination by the FDOH was a result of insubordination, as she refused to publish the data her higher-ups were telling her to.

Jones went public against the DeSantis administration, claiming that they were purposefully manipulating Florida’s coronavirus data — downplaying just how dire the situation was — in order to quickly reopen rural counties across the state. DeSantis deemed this allegation a “non-issue.”

“She’s not a data scientist… She is not involved in collating any data, she does not have the expertise to do that,” DeSantis said in a statement on May 20. “[Jones] was putting data on the portal, which the scientists didn’t believe was valid data… So, she was dismissed because of that.”

After being fired, Jones created a new non-governmental COVID-19 data dashboard of her own, which promises honest, factual and up-to-date coronavirus data for the state of Florida. Her site contains information about antibody testing and hospitals — information that is not included in the FDOH’s dashboard.

However, Jones must first deal with the criminal charges against her before she can return to managing her data dashboard. While Jones and her attorneys have chosen to drop their lawsuit against the state, it is likely Jones will press on with the civil case once the criminal case is over.

Featured image: Selfie of Rebekah Jones. Unmodified photo by Rebekah Jones used under a Creative Commons license. (https://bit.ly/3lRk7QE)  

Check out other recent articles from the Florida Political Review here.        

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