The state of Florida’s former Covid-19 data manager was arrested today.
After her firing in May of 2020, Rebekah Jones had become a critic of the state’s publicly-available information, even setting up her own online dashboard of Covid-19 case data. The state suspected her of being the person who’d illegally accessed the state’s emergency alert health system in December to urge Health Department employees to speak up about the coronavirus, and state police obtained a warrant for a raid on her home during which they’d seized her computers and cellphones.
Jones later called the raid a “sham” to retaliate against her for not altering the state’s COVID-19 data. This weekend on Twitter, Jones emphasized that the police found zero evidence during their raid to connect her to that message. She also argues that the newer allegation “was issued the day after a Tallahassee judge told police that if they’re not investigating a crime, they had to return my equipment.”
During that raid “police did find documents I received/downloaded from sources in the state, or something of that nature…” Jones posted Saturday. “[I]t isn’t clear at this point what exactly they’re saying I had that I shouldn’t have had, but an agent confirmed it has nothing to do with the subject of the warrant.”
The Tampa Bay Times reports:
Jones announced Saturday on Twitter that she learned of the warrant and plans to turn herself in on Sunday. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed there is a warrant for Jones’ arrest but said it cannot disclose what charges she faces until she is in custody.
Agency spokesman Gretl Plessinger said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times that “agents have been working with her attorney to have her turn herself in…”
Jones said she and her attorney were not told what she’s being prosecuted for, just that she faces one criminal charge…
“The agent told my lawyer there would be only one charge,” Jones tweeted on Saturday, “but emphasized that speaking out or going to the media may result in police ‘stacking’ additional charges.”
UPDATE (1/18/2021): Monday in court prosecutors asked that Jones be banned from the internet, and be required to wear a GPS monitor — but a judge rejected the request (according to a local news report cited by the Orlando Sentinel). The warrant alleges that on Nov. 10, Jones downloaded a file equivalent to between 600 and 700 sheets of paper, containing contact information for about 19,182 Floridians. The file contained names, organizations, titles, home counties as well as personal phone numbers and emails, the warrant states.
On her Twitter account, Jones said the charge was retaliation for her criticisms of the state’s COVID-19 response and claimed the charge had nothing to do with the original search warrant at her home last month…
The agency said the message was sent from an IP address that matched Jones’ address, according to the warrant. Agents seized a desktop computer from Jones’ home during the search, and a forensic analysis revealed she downloaded the file containing the information, the warrant reads.
The charge is a third-degree felony.