Rebekah Jones Says Florida Gov. DeSantis Trying to 'Intimidate Scientists' By Raiding Her Home

Data scientist Rebekah Jones accused Florida Governor Ron DeSantis of trying to "intimidate scientists and get back at me, while trying to get to my sources" following an armed raid on her home.

Jones, who has been embroiled in an argument with the governor over the alleged under-reporting of COVID death figures, shared video footage of the raid on Monday and said she was shown a warrant based on a Florida Department of Health complaint.

Florida officials have said the action was related to a recent computer hack at DOH, which resulted in staff receiving an unauthorised message urging them to "speak out." According to an affidavit by an investigator with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the message was traced to an IP address connected to Jones' house.

Jones denies any involvement. Speaking to CNN after the raid, Jones said she had not improperly accessed any communication system, that she no longer had access to her state accounts after being removed from her role in May, and that she is "not a hacker."

Jones told Cuomo Prime Time host Chris Cuomo that officers took her computers and cellphone.

"On my phone is every communication I've ever had with someone who works at the state who has come to me in confidence and told me things that could get them fired or in trouble like this. And I just want to say to all those people right now—if he doesn't already, DeSantis will know soon enough that you've been talking to me—so be careful."

Gov. "DeSantis needs to worry less about what I'm writing about and more about the people who are sick and dying... doing this to me will not stop me from reporting the data. Ever."
- FL data scientist Rebekah Jones on having her home raided as part of a cybercrime investigation. pic.twitter.com/ztbqdKjwYv

— Cuomo Prime Time (@CuomoPrimeTime) December 8, 2020

The raid is the latest escalation of a dispute between the governor and Jones, who is a former geographic information systems manager for Florida's DOH Division of Disease Control and Health Protection.

She has claimed that she lost her position in May for refusing to manipulate COVID-19 data in order to make the state outbreak seem less severe as leaders moved to lift restrictions for businesses and reopen its economy.

Official daily case counts had been relatively low in Florida, with 819 cases reported on May 4, the day the restrictions were eased. However, a sharp uptick in June and July peaked with the state setting a nationwide record of 15,299 new daily cases on July 12. Daily death counts also spiked in August, according to data collated by The New York Times.

Jones' removal came shortly after the data scientist wrote an op-ed in the Miami Herald in which she called on DOH employees to call out officials "bungling" coronavirus data.

Following her removal, DeSantis criticized Jones during a press conference he held with Vice President Mike Pence. The governor questioned her credentials, saying: "She's not a data scientist," but somebody with "a degree in journalism communication."

He accused Jones of using invalid data, adding: "She is not involved in collating any data, she does not have the expertise to do that."

On Monday, before the raid, Florida Department of Health said someone had hacked into a messaging system to send a note to emergency responders on November 10.

The message, obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, called on them to "speak up before another 17,000 people are dead. You know this is wrong. You don't have to be a part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it's too late."

Florida officials had reported 17,460 COVID deaths at that time.

'Intimidate scientists'

Jones told CNN that she had not seen that memo until Monday, that the language used was "not the way I talk," and said the number of unreported deaths mention later in the message was "under by about 430."

"This is just a very thinly veiled attempt of the governor to intimidate scientists and get back at me while trying to get to my sources," she said. "[DeSantis has] been firing DOH sources left and right."

The data scientists has accused the governor of allowing officials to fudge COVID figures, in moves which she told CNN "did get people killed."

She added that: "DeSantis needs to worry less about what I'm writing about and more about people who are sick and dying in his state."

The Florida governor's office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have been contacted for comment.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference on coronavirus cases at the Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Florida, on July 13, 2020. Data Scientist Rebekah Jones, who said she lost her DOH job for refusing to manipulate COVID-19 data, accused DeSantis of sending the "gestapo" to her home. Joe Raedle/Getty