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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Rebekah Jones, a fired COVID-19 data manager for the state of Florida, is suing the Florida Department of Law Enforcement over a police raid on her house.
Jones’ lawsuit alleges that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement violated her constitutional rights, as well as state law, when officers served a warrant on her home during the early hours of Dec. 7.
“The basis of the warrant was a sham to punish plaintiff for her protected speech,” says the lawsuit, which was filed Monday in Leon County civil court.
Representatives for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement could not immediately be reached for comment.
Officers served the warrant on Jones’ house after they said they traced an unauthorized entry into a Florida Department of Emergency Management text message service back to an IP address registered to Jones.
Jones denies accessing the messaging service. She also denies using it to send a message to thousands of employees of the Florida Department of Health that read, in part, “It’s time to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead. You know this is wrong.”
Jones has not been charged with a crime. Legal experts say she could face up to five years in prison if prosecutors charge her with accessing the messaging service without permission.
Security for the messaging system, however, was lax. Usernames and passwords for the service were publicly posted on the Florida Department of Health website.
Jones’ attorney says any criminal case against his client would be unlikely to succeed.
“They don’t want this case. They want to find out who her sources are and shut down her website,” Rick Johnson, her attorney, said.
Johnson said Jones’ legal team will file a motion Tuesday asking a judge to order the FDLE to return the electronics taken as evidence from Jones’ house.
“I hope a court orders them to give it back to us before they have a chance to examine it,” Johnson said.
During the early days of the pandemic in Florida, Jones was the principal force behind the state’s coronavirus dashboard. She was fired from her post as manager of Geographic Information Systems at the Florida Department of Health in early May.
Jones says she was fired because she refused to fudge figures about the virus. The state says she was fired for insubordination. In addition to this most recent lawsuit, Jones also has a pending whistleblower lawsuit against the state over her firing.
After leaving the Florida Department of Health, Jones set up her own coronavirus dashboard to present the state’s data to the public.