Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday defended the law enforcement investigation into a former Department of Health employee who the state says sent an unauthorized message about COVID-19 data.
DeSantis was asked about the encounter between Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers and Rebekah Jones during a roundtable discussion in Tampa regarding mental health for first responders.
"This individual became known because she alleged a conspiracy theory at the department of health which is unfounded, never proven at all. She was fired because she wasn’t doing a good job," DeSantis said. "None of the stuff she said was ever proven. You think that would be the end of it. Obviously, she’s got issues."
Jones helped create the state's dashboard of coronavirus data. She was fired from her post in May after she raised questions about the data. She had been reprimanded several times and was ultimately fired for violating Health Department policy by making public remarks about the information, state records show.
Officers served a search warrant at Jones' home in Tallahassee Monday after a message had been sent that implored employees still at the Health Department "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."
Jones hasn't been charged with any crime and has denied sending the message, though court records show that the alert system can be accessed via a username and password that many department employees share.
"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 you could really frighten a lot of elderly people, a lot of vulnerable populations," DeSantis said Friday.
DeSantis said the department of health reported the intrusion to law enforcement.
"Law enforcement looked at the intrusion, they identified the IP address, then they did what any investigator would do, they subpoenaed the internet provider, the internet provider provided this residence as the IP address that did the intrusion," DeSantis said. "They got a search warrant, got the devices and guess what? They’re probably going to be able to match the devices to the intrusion, at which point that’s clearly a felony offense."
DeSantis said he was aware of the investigation but didn't know what law enforcement was doing.
Bodycam video released by FDLE on Thursday shows that officers tried multiple time to contact Jones. Officials said agents had "knocked and called" Jones, but she refused to come to the door for 20 minutes and hung up on them.
Jones said Thursday that she, her husband and two children were asleep when the officers arrived. Speaking in a YouTube interview with Florida Today, Jones said she needed to get dressed and told her husband to take the children upstairs because she thought the officers were arresting her and she didn't want them to see that.
She said she doesn't understand why the officers needed to raid her house with guns drawn.
“They were there to serve a search warrant for a computer. This was not an illegal, underground cartel,” she said. “There was no risk of danger and (the delay in opening the door) does not excuse that behavior."
Jones set up a video camera before letting officers in, and exclaimed that they were pointing guns at her children. But bodycam video shows her husband and children leaving the house peacefully without guns drawn.
DeSantis voiced criticisms when a reporter characterized it as a raid on Friday.
"It’s not a raid with all due respect, what you just said is editorializing," DeSantis said. "I’m not going to let you get away with it."
DeSantis also gave his support to the officers who werre at Jones' home.
"They’ve been smeared as the Gestapo for doing their jobs. They did a search warrant. Why did they do a search warrant on the house? Because her IP address was linked to the felony. What were they supposed to do? Just ignore it? Of course not, they went, they followed protocol," DeSantis said. "We have video from Tallahassee PD showing they were very respectful, she was not cooperative, it was not a raid, they were serving valid process in accordance with the laws and Constitution of the United States and the state of Florida."
Jones told officers that her lawyer told her not to answer the door. When asked, she said it wasn't about Monday's incident, but a prior involvement with police. She currently is being prosecuted for a misdemeanor stalking charge.
"I think Floridians want government to protect them. I think they want these sensitive systems to be protected," DeSantis said. "I don’t think they want them to be intrusion and just because you’re a darling of some corners of the fever swamps, that does not exempt you from following the law."