Florida Covid whistleblower, whose home was raided by police, raises almost $200k for legal fees in 24 hours

Law enforcement took several electronic devices during raid

Matt Mathers
Thursday 10 December 2020 17:32 GMT
Florida Covid data scientist speaks out after home raided by police

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Almost $200,000 has been raised in 24 hours to fund the legal fees of a fired Florida state Covid-19 data scientist whose home was raided by police earlier this week.

As of Wednesday afternoon, gofundme donors had given $186,000 to a page set up by Rebekah Jones, who has been an outspoken critic of Florida's coronavirus response ever since she was fired from her role at the department of health earlier this year.

Ms Jones, a data expert, claims the state is actively suppressing Covid-19 statistics in a bid to cover up the extent of the pandemic, which has so far killed 19,377 people in Florida and infected some 1.7 million more. She claims officials are cooking the numbers to allow a faster easing of restrictions.

Those allegations are denied by the state. Ms Jones's campaign, set up on Tuesday, has already exceeded its original target of $150,000 and is now seeking to raise $1,000,000, as donations flood in from supporters in Florida and elsewhere.

"Looks like I need a new computer and a hell of a good lawyer," she wrote on the page.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) executed a warrant on Ms Jones's Tallahassee home early on Monday morning. Footage recorded by the data scientist shows agents enter the property with their guns drawn while her husband and two children are inside.

A spokesperson for FDLE said that agents knocked on Ms Jones's door and called her in an attempt to minimise disruption but she refused to answer or come to the door for 20 minutes.

After gaining access to the property, state agents confiscated a number of electronic devices, although Ms Jones was not arrested.

FDLE it is investigating whether Ms Jones, who was axed from her job in May, accessed a government messaging system without authorisation to urge her former colleagues to speak out against the state's alleged suppression of coronavirus data.

The message said: "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."

Investigators traced the message, sent on 10 November, to an IP address connected to Ms Jones's house, according to an affidavit by an agent working on the case.

Ms Jones denies that she accessed the system improperly and says she lost access to her government accounts when she left her post in May.

She told CNN on Monday that the devices taken by law enforcement contained evidence that the state was "lying in January about things like internal reports and notices from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention". They also contained "evidence of illegal activities", she claims.

Ms Jones, who helped develop Floria's Covid-19 dashboard, believes the raid was orchestrated by governor Ron DeSantis, who's handling of the crisis she has publicly criticised. His office denies any knowledge of the probe.

After being fired, Ms Jones produced her own Covid-19 dashboard, where she independently tracks the spread of the virus.

"This is what happens when you challenge powerful and corrupt people," Ms Jones added. "If he thinks this is going to scare me into silence, he's wrong."

Ms Jones was fired in May for what she claims was a refusal to massage Florida's Covid-19 statistics. State officials say she was dismissed for exhibiting "a repeated course of insubordination".

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