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8 Dec, 2020 05:21

‘They pointed guns at my kids’: Police raid home of Florida state employee fired over Covid data ‘manipulation’ scandal

‘They pointed guns at my kids’: Police raid home of Florida state employee fired over Covid data ‘manipulation’ scandal

A former Florida Health Department staffer fired in May over a dispute about the state’s Covid-19 data has been raided by police, decrying them as “Gestapo,” and denies allegations she broke into an official messaging system.

Rebekah Jones, who served as a data analyst for the Florida Department of Health (DOH) until she was fired last spring, took to Twitter on Monday with a lengthy thread and a video of her encounter with state police earlier that morning, saying they had seized her “hardware and tech.”

“They were serving a warrant on my computer after DOH filed a complaint. They pointed a gun in my face. They pointed guns at my kids,” Jones said, accusing Florida Governor Ron DeSantis of orchestrating the raid.

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 brief video of the incident shows officers at Jones’s front door, serving a warrant, demanding she “come outside,” and asking who else was in the home. One is seen drawing a gun after learning Jones’ husband was still on the premises, and asking that he and the couple’s children also come downstairs. Jones protests.

A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), Gretl Plessinger, told a local newspaper that an investigation into Jones was opened last month after the DOH filed a complaint “regarding unauthorized access to a Department of Health messaging system which is part of an emergency alert system.”

According to the DOH, an unidentified individual illicitly gained access to the alert system and sent out a group message stating “It’s time to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead,” apparently referring to the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The message was sent to some 1,750 recipients before the software vendor overseeing the system was able to stop it from spreading further.

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While Jones has denied any connection to the breach, telling a local reporter, “I don’t know how to do that stuff,” a FDLE investigator said the unauthorized message was sent from an IP address linked to Jones’s Comcast account. The former employee maintains that the police obtained her IP address from the DOH without further investigation, however, and that at least five other DOH staffers were fired around the time the message was sent, suggesting others may have had a motive to access the alert system.

In May, Jones was sacked from her position as a DOH geographic information system expert, where she reportedly helped to manage an online Covid-19 dashboard, after publicly accusing state authorities of manipulating data to present a more optimistic picture of Florida’s outbreak. While she has not alleged any actual doctoring of infection or death numbers, Jones criticizes changes to the way the state reports positivity rates for tests, for example. DeSantis disclosed that particular change in April, arguing it would better reflect trends amid the health crisis.

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Jones was ultimately discharged for insubordination, after multiple warnings from superiors over her public discussion of the coronavirus dashboard, including sharing “unauthorized charts” along with “political commentary,”according to documents obtained by the Associated Press.

Jones claims she was silenced by the government solely for her “whistleblowing,” however, and has continued to assail the DOH and DeSantis from her website, even creating her own alternative dashboard. Despite the allegations, Florida’s deputy health secretary, Dr. Shamarial Roberson, has stood by the state’s Covid-19 reporting, insisting “our data is accurate, it’s factual, it’s true, it’s transparent.”

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