By Jim Saunders, Dara Kam The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — A fired Florida Department of Health data analyst who contends Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration has manipulated COVID-19 statistics filed a lawsuit Sunday alleging state law-enforcement agents violated her rights when they searched her home and hauled away computer equipment.
Attorneys for Rebekah Jones, who has drawn national attention for her battles with the DeSantis administration, argued in the lawsuit that a search warrant to enter her home Dec. 7 “was obtained in bad faith and with no legitimate object or purpose.”
“They were there to execute a search warrant for her electronics devices; however the basis of the warrant was a sham to punish plaintiff (Jones) for her protected speech,” the lawsuit said. “Her termination from the Florida Department of Health after refusing to falsify data generated a great deal of media coverage much to the dismay of the state.”
The lawsuit, filed in Leon County circuit court, alleges violations of Jones’ First Amendment rights and due-process rights and alleges an unlawful search and seizure. It names as defendants Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen, Agent Noel Pratts and an unidentified agent listed as John Doe.
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.”
The FDLE conducted the search at Jones’ house after an investigation allegedly linked her home address to a Nov. 10 message sent on an internal Department of Health multi-user account.
“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,” the message from an unidentified sender said.
Jones tweeted a video of agents entering her house and accused DeSantis of sending the “Gestapo” after her.
The DeSantis administration fired Jones this year after she accused state health officials of manipulating data to suppress the number of reported COVID-19 cases and deaths. After her dismissal, Jones set up a competing COVID-19 dashboard to display data about the virus.
The lawsuit said Jones was “neither the author nor the sender of the message” that touched off the investigation.
“FDLE, seeking to ingratiate itself to DeSantis, 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,” said the lawsuit, filed by Tallahassee attorney Richard Johnson, Longwood attorney Lawrence Walters and Atlanta attorney Lisa Lambert. “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.”
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages and an injunction that would require Swearingen to return property seized in the search. It identifies Pratts as the agent in charge of the investigation. It also accused the agent identified as John Doe of battery for allegedly inappropriately touching Jones during the incident.
Amid the nationwide media attention this month, DeSantis and Swearingen have publicly lashed out at Jones.
“This individual became known, because she alleged a conspiracy theory at the Department of Health, which is unfounded and never proven at all,” DeSantis said during one appearance. “She was fired because she wasn’t doing a good job. None of the stuff that she said was ever proven. You’d think that would be the end of it. Obviously, she’s got issues. On this situation, there was an intrusion of a very sensitive system. It’s an emergency alert system. If somebody gets a hold of that, they can do a lot of damage.”
She’s going to have plenty of prog money backing up her war on Desantis.
I can’t imagine DA not charging her for breaking into state server. Yes, ISPs such as Comcast can track down which computer within an office or home a message came from. Very easy- just takes FDLE some time to get Comcast to research location of isp address…big back log of similar search requests! FDLE agents are probably having a field day reviewing her computer’s emails. Also, if there is more of a delay from the DA: first, may be due to Christmas season or, more likely, FDLE has found co/conspirators!
Desantis should re-focus his rage on 1. How Jones access was either not removed at termination or how Jones access to DOH data base was restored. 2. Who in DOH reported Jones data breach and how and from whom the data breach reporter found out about the data breach – and keep tracing that back as far as it goes.
Governor you may have been played big time Sir and likely from Jones sympathizers within DOH. Get to work on that Sir.
Great point Jon:
I’m thinking the 2 adults took a gleeful look at the $200 thousand + in their Go Fund Me Account, realized that liberals are not anyway near tapped out, and knew full well they needed another issue to put the squeeze on the mindless liberals to donate more and more into their Go Fund Me Account.
Therefore they decided to intentionally commit this hand-spanky spanky crime of accessing the DOH employee emergency notification data base. Correctly predicting DeSantis would fall for the ploy and over react, correctly predicting leftist media would continue to over dramatize her victim status, and correctly predicting their GFM Account will double or even quadruple with donations. Whatever wrist slap results will be nothing compared to their financial gain.
Well played Ms. Jones.
It’s hard to believe someone would be dumb enough to misuse a govt system from their home ip. Contrary to her claims comcast can indeed see exactly what device the IP was assigned to. So either she did it or she was framed. Which is the simpler answer?
The only conspiracy theory that I am sure is happening is how they count the Covid Deaths. I will bet that, those that died by other means and just happened to test possitive for Covid are counted as Covid Deaths and 98% of those would have survived Covid had they not died from the other means.
I hope her lawyers have told her that if she lies in the suit, she can go to prison.
Neither the detailed LEO report or the video footage support her frivolous claims. She suffers from a common deranged narcissistic syndrome known as 15’itus… as in her 15 minutes are up, her bills are due, and she can’t deal with it… toss in a Moron and Moron type ambulance chaser… and whoalaa…
Apologize, accept responsibility for your actions, and seek mental help young lady… it’s not to late to get your life back on track. Best of luck to you.
John- why don’t you file a request with FDLE and ask them for the records? I’m assuming you are including all employees being investigated not just cherry picking this one case.
But include county and municipal employees so we will all know. My guess is numerous times.
Can someone provide a list of all the other times in the last 3 years FDLE has taken this kind of action against a former State employee for the exact or similar reason?