Former Department of Health data manager Rebekah Jones sued the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Sunday, contending the search warrant served at her home was done as a means to “punish” her.
Jones first gained notoriety in May after she claimed she was fired for “refusing to falsify data” on the COVID-19 pandemic. A vocal critic of Gov. Ron DeSantis, she recaptured national interest on Dec. 7 when state police executed a search warrant at her Tallahassee home.
State police seized computer hardware, tech and other electronics in connection to a Nov. 10 DOH cyber hack, FDLE said at the time.
The lawsuit claims FDLE was “seeking to ingratiate itself to DeSantis” and “sought to silence plaintiff’s online speech by confiscating her computer and to discover her confidential sources and other information by seizing her cell phone. That was the motive for obtaining the search warrant, not the ridiculous notion that FDLE believed plaintiff sent the message at issue and that it would have been illegal so to do.”
“They entered her home with guns drawn, terrorizing her family,” the Leon County lawsuit filed against FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen says. “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.”
Swearingen issued a brief statement Monday defending his agents.
“As I have said before, I am proud of the professionalism shown by our FDLE agents as they served a legal search warrant on the residence of Rebekah Jones,” Swearingen said. “Our criminal investigation continues, and while I have not seen this lawsuit, I believe the facts will come out in court.”
According to the lawsuit, Jones alleges state police violated her First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments rights. She’s also alleged violations against state law.
Jones is seeking damages of more than $30,000, according to the lawsuit. She is represented by attorneys Rick Johnson of Tallahassee, Lawrence Walters of Longwood and Lisa Lambert of Atlanta.
In the days after the incident, Jones appeared on local and national media to speak in her defense. She’s alleged DeSantis played a role in the search warrant.
“Plaintiff’s firing captured a great deal of media attention nationally and in Florida, much of it negative toward Governor Ron DeSantis, who is widely believed to have had a hand in the firing,” the lawsuit reads, later adding: “FDLE Commissioners are sensitive to the attitudes and preferences of governors.”
DeSantis on Dec. 12 denied involvement with the warrant and described Jones as a person with “issues.”
Leon County court documents show 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 remains open.
DeSantis then also accused news media of latching on and distorting the story. He takes issue with reports describing the search warrant as a police raid.
“You guys need to look at facts and stop trying to feed narratives,” DeSantis said. “I understand why you do it, but it’s not supported by facts. You should be better than that.”
A copy of the lawsuit is below.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. Republished with permision.