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Florida COVID-19 whistleblower sues law enforcement over raid

Dec. 21 (UPI) -- The former Florida Department of Health data scientist who was fired from running the state's COVID-19 data dashboard sued the Florida Department of Law Enforcement over a raid on her home earlier this month.

Rebekah Jones filed the 19-page lawsuit in Leon County civil court stating that the FDLE violated her constitutional rights by serving the search warrant on Dec. 7, which the suit states sought to "silence" her online speech and gain the favor of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

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"The basis of this warrant was a sham to punish the plaintiff for her protected speech," the suit states.

Jones on Dec. 7 posted video from a home surveillance camera that appeared to show armed officers entering her home and demanding that she, her two children and husband leave the house as FDLE said it served a search warrant as part of an investigation alleging Jones had breached an emergency messaging alert system and had "illegally accessed the system."

She said law enforcement took the phone and computer she used to run her personally developed coronavirus dashboard that the lawsuit described as popular with scientists and medical professionals for its "scrupulously accurate and honest data."

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Jones' attorney, Rick Johnson, on Monday said her legal team will file a motion on Tuesday asking a judge to order the FDLE to return the electronics taken from her home.

The suit also said law enforcement pointed guns at Jones and her family and then an unnamed agent "ran his hands up and down her ribs and grasped her sides just below her breasts and held her" as she stood with her arms raised.

Jones was fired by the state in May for "insubordination" after publicly complaining that state officials were pressuring her to falsify data related to the coronavirus and filed a whistleblower report against the Florida Department of Health saying she was terminated for refusing to do so.

The raid stemmed from an allegation that Jones had hacked into the Florida Department of Emergency Management text message service and sent the message to thousands of Department of Health employees stating "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 but has denied breaching the system and her suit states that officials failed to consider her IP address may have been spoofed and noted that log-in information for the platform had been posted online.

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The suit also states that Jones has received hate mail and harassing phone calls after state law enforcement released a warrant including her home address and other personal information.

FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen on Monday issued a statement saying he was "proud of the professionalism shown by our FDLE agents as they served a legal search warrant on the residence of Rebekah Jones," adding that a criminal investigation is ongoing.

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