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Home of fired Florida data scientist raided on suspicion of cyber crime

1 year 9 months 3 weeks ago Tuesday, December 08 2020 Dec 8, 2020 December 08, 2020 4:47 AM December 08, 2020 in News
Source: CNN
Rebekah Jones Photo: USA Today

TALLAHASSE, Florida - A Florida data scientist with ties to Louisiana State University accused Florida officials of intentionally withholding coronavirus data from the public earlier this year, and after being publicly chastised by the state's governor, her Tallahassee home was raided by armed authorities on Monday.  

According to CNN, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement executed a search warrant Monday (Dec. 7) morning, with Florida police making their way into the home of fired data scientist Rebekah Jones, on the grounds of suspicions that Jones had allegedly been involved in a cyber crime.

Jones was removed from her position with the state Department of Health in May and CNN reports that according to an associated affidavit, the agency is now investigating whether Jones accessed a state government messaging system without authorization to call on her former coworkers to speak out about coronavirus deaths.

In the message, the unauthorized individual who authorities suspect may have been Jones, said, "It's time to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead. You know this is wrong. You don't have to be part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it's too late."

Officials traced the message, which was sent on the afternoon of November 10 to about 1,750 recipients, to an IP address connected to Jones' house, the investigator wrote in the affidavit.

But Jones maintains that she did not send the message, saying she has not improperly accessed any state messaging system and that she lost access to her government computer accounts after she was fired.

The raid on her home occurred around 8:30 a.m. and based on video taken from a camera in her house, which she posted on social media, one of the ten officers involved is seen pointing a gun up a stairwell as Jones told him her two children were upstairs.

In the video, Jones is heard frantically telling the officer that he's pointing his gun at her 2-year-old daughter, 11-year-old son, and her husband, who she said were in the stairwell. It should be noted, however, that the video does not reveal who was in the stairwell. 

Jones told reporters that the officers pointed a gun six inches from her face, took all of her computers, her phone, and several hard drives and thumb drives.

However, Gretl Plessinger, a spokesperson for the law enforcement department, said the warrant was executed properly.

Plessinger says agents knocked on Jones' door and called her "in an attempt to minimize disruption to the family." She adds that Jones refused to come to the door for 20 minutes and hung up on the agents.

However, Plessinger admits that Jones' family was upstairs when agents entered the house, and she didn't respond to questions about why the officers felt they needed to draw their guns.

"At no time were weapons pointed at anyone in the home," Rick Swearingen, the department's commissioner, added in another statement.

According to CNN, Jones said she believed the raid on her home was orchestrated by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who she's publicly accused of mishandling the pandemic.

"This is what happens when you challenge powerful and corrupt people," Jones said. "If he thinks this is going to scare me into silence, he's wrong."

DeSantis spokesperson Fred Piccolo told CNN that "the governor's office had no involvement, no knowledge, no nothing, of this investigation."

He added that the law enforcement department launched an investigation into the message before anyone knew about Jones' alleged involvement. The health department referred a request for comment to the law enforcement department.

Jones, who helped build the state's online coronavirus data dashboard, was fired in May, in what she argued was retaliation for her refusal to fudge the numbers and minimize the scale of the outbreak.

She claimed that a superior at the department asked her to manipulate the state's data to make it appear Florida was closer to meeting its reopening targets than it actually was.

Jones filed a whistleblower complaint against the health department in July, asking to be reinstated to her job with back pay and launched her own online dashboard of Florida coronavirus data.

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