Rebekah Jones’ home searched, tech seized after Health Department hack
Rebekah Jones. Image via Rebekah Jones.

RebekahPhoto1
Law enforcement say the Department of Health complained of a hack last month.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) served a warrant at the home of Rebekah Jones, a former Department of Health data curator who made national headlines after being fired from the department for insubordination, in connection to a hack at DOH last month, according to an FDLE spokesperson.

FDLE confirmed the search after Jones, a data scientist and staunch critic of Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ pandemic response, took to Twitter to announce that state police had seized her “hardware and tech” from her Tallahassee residence.

A hacker sent State Emergency Response Team members text messages through a custom-made communications application for the Division of Emergency Management reserved for emergencies only. The Nov. 10 message, first reported last month by the Tampa Bay Times, 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.” DOH estimates that 1,750 messages were sent before software vendors with ReadyOp, who designed the system, were able to cancel the distribution.

“As part of our investigation, FDLE agents served a search warrant this morning at the Centerville Court residence where Ms. Jones lives after determining the home was the location that the unauthorized message was sent from,” FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said in a statement.

After DOH issued a complaint to the FDLE, officers traced the source of the breach to Jones through her internet service, according to an affidavit signed Thursday by an FDLE investigator.

Monday afternoon, Jones tweeted a video showing officers serving the warrant.

“They pointed a gun in my face. They pointed guns at my kids,” she said. “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. They took evidence of corruption at the state level. They claimed it was about a security breach. This was DeSantis. He sent the gestapo.”

“This is what happens to scientists who do their job honestly,” she continued. “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. This is Desantis’ Florida.”

DeSantis’ communications director, Fred Piccolo, told CNN that “the Governor’s office had no involvement, no knowledge, no nothing, of this investigation.”

The video posted by Jones shows officers brandishing guns and telling Jones to exit her Tallahassee home. The video also shows a law enforcement officer yelling at Jones’ husband to “come down the stairs now.”

Jones can be heard saying in a high-pitched voice, “He just pointed a gun at my children.”

In an attempt to “minimize disruption to the family,” Plessinger said that agents knocked on the door at Jones’ home and called her phone.

“Agents knocked and called Ms. Jones both announcing the search warrant and encouraging her to cooperate. Ms. Jones refused to come to the door for 20 minutes and hung-up on agents,” Plessinger said. “After several attempts, Ms. Jones allowed agents inside. Agents entered the home in accordance with normal protocols and seized several devices that will be forensically analyzed. At no time were weapons pointed at anyone in the home. Any evidence will be referred to the State Attorney for prosecution as appropriate.”

In a subsequent tweet, Jones said she would have “a new computer tomorrow” and that she would get back to work on her website.

“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 wrote.

In an appearance on CNN’s “Cuomo Prime Time” with Chris Cuomo, Jones said officers only took her phone and computer and passed on her router and other computers in the household. The state isn’t after her, she said.

“On my phone is every communication I’ve ever had with someone who works at the state who has come to me in confidence and told me things that could get them fired or in trouble like this,” she said, “and I just want to say to all those people right now, if he doesn’t know already, DeSantis will know soon enough that you’ve been talking to me, so be careful.”

Jones’ attorney, Larry Walters, called it “highly unusual” for the state to have seized her confidential communications.

“We are concerned that this is retaliation for pursuing a discrimination claim against the state and criticizing the Governor’s COVID-19 response,” Walters said in a statement to WTSP. “We will thoroughly investigate these issues and take all necessary action to protect our client’s rights.”

After her CNN appearance, Jones tweeted that people asking how to help could spread the word, offer her a job outside the state or donate to her GoFundMe page. As of Tuesday morning, more than 2,700 people have donated nearly $100,000 of her target $150,000. A handful of donors have gifted $1,000 or more.

Monday’s raid is the latest confrontation between Jones and the agency where she once worked.

Jones, who used to curate coronavirus data for DOH’s dashboard as the department’s Division of Disease Control and Health Protection geographic information systems manager, was fired in May for what the DeSantis administration called repeated insubordination. Jones contends she was fired for refusing to manipulate the data.

“The blatant disrespect for the professionals who were working around the clock to provide the important information for the COVID-19 website was harmful to the team,” DeSantis’ then-spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferré said in May. “Having someone disruptive cannot be tolerated during this public pandemic, which led the Department to determine that it was best to terminate her employment.”

That month, DeSantis accused the national media of latching onto the story because claims Florida would become the next Italy of the pandemic didn’t come true.

“Maybe it’s that there are black helicopters circling the Department of Health,” he said. “If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.”

The administration also brought to the media’s attention criminal charges that had been filed against Jones last year.

A review of Leon County court documents shows that Jones was charged in July 2019 with two counts of cyberstalking and one count of sexual cyber harassment. According to court records, one of the cases involving Jones is still open.

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

The Nov. 10 hack came in the afternoon after news broke that the state’s Office of Policy and Budget had hired an Ohio sports blogger who downplays the virus’ severity on social media to manage the dashboard Jones once oversaw.

Since her firing, Jones has used publicly available DOH coronavirus data to create an alternate dashboard to track COVID-19 infections. In August, she launched The COVID Monitor to track cases in schools across the country.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida’s lone statewide-elected Democrat, tweeted that she spoke with FDLE Monday evening “to get to the bottom of this situation and to understand the facts.”

“Like most of you, I was shocked at what I saw on today’s video from (Jones),” she wrote. “Knowing that children were in the home, police should have exercised extreme caution.”

Orlando Democratic U.S. Rep Val Demings tweeted “We need more information on this troubling situation and we need it sooner rather than later.”

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, also an Orlando Democrat, called Jones’ video “horrifying,” sharing the post on Twitter, too. “Why are guns being drawn out for a ‘data breach’?”

But Leon County Republican Party Chairman and Republican Party of Florida Chairman of Chairs Evan Power mocked Democrats on Twitter.

“So wow, you mean (Gwen Graham) and (Nikki Fried)’s hero (Rebekah Jones’) house was raided by police today? It’s almost like they are getting let in on what we all know. (Ron DeSantis) is right, the pretenders are all out there spinning,” he wrote.

Ron Filipowski, a former Republican and Vice Chair and member of the 12th Circuit Judicial Nomination Commission, resigned his post over the Governor’s pandemic response and Jones’ treatment.

“Based on what I have seen and read, I find these actions unconscionable,” he wrote in his resignation letter Tuesday. “Even if the facts alleged are true, I would still call her a hero.”

Actor George Takei encouraged people on Twitter to donate to Jones’ dashboard “to support her work and to give the finger to DeSantis and his gestapo.”

___

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


13 comments

  • Frankie M.

    December 7, 2020 at 8:00 pm

    How do you hang up on somebody at your door? Sounds like somebody is butthurt because he botched his rona response..

  • Jeffery Dishman

    December 8, 2020 at 2:53 am

    Hey Floridapolitics.com ….>> Shouldn’t the headline read “Rebekah Jones’ home searched, tech seized after ALLEGED Health Department hack” Or is someone guilty until proven innocent in Florida? (Asking for a friend)

  • Sonja Fitch

    December 8, 2020 at 5:54 am

    Wtf. What evidence was used to set the actions into storming her home! This is Nazi gross intimidation! What evidence was used to allow guns to be drawn? What does the search warrant give as reasons for the raid? If this is more of the Duffus Desantis actions of willingly slaughtering Floridians , arrest Desantis! Better yet impeach the killer Desantis! Yo killer and liar Desantis you still have blood all over you!

  • Jonestown

    December 8, 2020 at 9:05 am

    Nobody acts more entitled than a white woman interacting with a police officer. Nobody.

  • DisplacedCTYankee

    December 8, 2020 at 9:09 am

    My 2003 book was finally remaindered and the publisher gave me the last few copies left. I wonder when Gov DeMAGA’s gestapo will come for them, to throw on the fire.

  • tjb

    December 8, 2020 at 9:12 am

    We have lost almost 20,000 Floridians to COVID-19. How many of these souls have lost their lives because of DeSantis. Even on the simple preventive measure such as wearing of a mask … he will not endorse this measure that will save lives.
    Do we have a serial killer residing in the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee using martial law to quiet his opposition?

  • Private Witheld

    December 8, 2020 at 11:25 am

    Yesterday, scumbag Desantis sent his armed Gestapo troops to conduct a KGB-style raid on the home of Rebekah Jones, the former Department of Health (DOH) employee who became the whistleblower who outed Desantis’ cover-up of the COVID-19 pandemic statistics in Florida. Desantis abuses his power over the DOH to deliberately alter and suppress statistics that monitor and report COVID-19 cases and deaths. Jones was the original creator of the DOH ‘dashboard’ that is essentially the central ‘brain’ that gathers the data and performs the analysis that results in making publicly available charts, graphs, and statistics to track the spread of COVID-19 in Florida. After Desantis fired Jones for ‘insubordination’, Jones publicly posted a replica of her dashboard that continued to accurately track and report Florida’s COVID-19 statistics while the DOH dashboard was corrupted by Desantis to under-report those statistics. After firing Jones, Desantis abused his power for any opportunity to retaliate against whistleblower Jones. Yesterday’s raid of her home and confiscation of her computers and electronic devices was a blatant attempt to punish and silence the whistleblower, and to seize her information in order to hunt down and punish all those who cooperated with her. This ambush retaliation raid could not have been accomplished without deliberate collusion between Desantis, the State Prosecutor, and an unidentified Judge who issued the warrant. Where did Desantis find a corrupt Florida Judge to obtain a home invasion and seizure warrant, based merely on a text message appealing to the collective conscience of DOH staff, which has been falsely labeled as an alleged “data breach” to claim justification for the warrant? There are many corrupt and/or ignorant Judges in Florida for Desantis to call upon to do his dirty work. Stating the obvious here… a text message is neither a “data breach” nor a “hack”, it is merely a text message. This is all about Desantis not liking the message. Boo Hoo. He is a mass murderer. He is a mini-Trump tyrant. He belongs in jail.

  • Barbara Ida

    December 8, 2020 at 12:01 pm

    Why doesn’t this article include any of Jones’ responses? eg She put on her clothes before answering the door, and it didn’t take 20 minutes. She says she doesn’t know anything about hacking; she’s a statistics wonk. Telling only one side of the story is slanted journalism. Not good.

  • Ocean Joe

    December 9, 2020 at 5:39 am

    Prediction: FDLE will get a new director.

  • JOSEPH H CHAMBERS

    December 11, 2020 at 7:32 pm

    WHY IS IT OK FOR ROGER STONE TO HAVE HIS HOUSE RAIDED BY DOZENS OF ARMED SWAT MEMBERS FOR A FAR LESS CRIME THAN THE LIAR REBEKAH JONES DID BUT NOT OKAY TO RAID A HOUSE WHERE SHE IS A PUBLICITY BITCH.

  • Private Witheld

    December 11, 2020 at 9:59 pm

    Because Stone’s witness tampering, obstructing an official proceeding, and five counts of making false statements are all serious crimes, and texting is not a crime. Stone is vermin, Jones is a hero.

Comments are closed.


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