Rebekah Jones, the former coronavirus data manager for the state of Florida who was fired earlier this year, has filed a lawsuit against Florida's Department of Law of Enforcement for a raid earlier this month.
Jones' lawsuit alleges that the FDLE violated her right to free speech when armed officers raided her Tallahassee home on Dec. 7.
Officers served a search warrant at Jones' home 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 was not 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.
The complaint accuses the warrant used to search Jones' home of being vague by not specifying what items needed to be seized. It also questioned whether FDLE considered that Jones' IP address had been "spoofed", or made to look as if her IP address had been the source of the message.
The lawsuit also notes a report done by Ars Technica, which said readers of Reddit had discovered that the Department of Health's private messaging system had published the necessary email address and password and posted it on PDF files available online.
"FDLE, seeking to ingratiate itself to DeSantis, sought to silence [Jones'] online speech by confiscating her computer and to discover her confidential sources and other information by seizing her cell phone," the lawsuit said.
"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."
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.
Jones has had several run-ins with law enforcement over personal issues, but has gained international attention by disputing Florida's COVID-19 statistics. She was paid almost $48,000 a year as a Department of Health employee, but since May has raised nearly $260,000 on a GoFundMe account after criticizing Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Rick Swearingen, said he was “proud of the professional" actions shown by his agents as they executed a legal search warrant at the home.
“Our criminal investigation continues, and while I have not seen this lawsuit, I believe the facts will come out in court,” the commissioner added in an email sent to reporters.
Speaking to reporters days after the raid, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also defended law enforcement's investigation into Jones.
"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 is asking that the electronic equipment which was seized by officers be returned immediately, and that she be awarded $30,000 in damages.