TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Rebekah Jones, the former Florida Department of Health data scientist who helped create the state’s COVID-19 dashboard and was fired last year, surrendered to authorities, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced Monday.
Jones, 31, was charged with one count of offenses against users of computers, computer systems, computer networks and electronic devices, the FDLE stated in a news release. Jones surrendered at the Leon County Detention Center.
The state issued an arrest warrant on Saturday, Jones confirmed on Twitter. On Sunday, Jones tweeted that she was “censored by the state of Florida until further notice.”
According to the Miami Herald, Jones was fired in May 2020 as the geographic information system manager for the state health department’s Division of Disease Control and Health Protection. The department said her contract was terminated for “insubordination” after she complained in an email to users of a statewide data portal that the state was manipulating the public health data being shared to the site.
Jones has maintained she was wrongfully terminated for refusing to manipulate virus data on the statewide dashboard.
According to the FDLE news release, an investigation began Nov. 10, 2020, after the agency received a complaint that someone had illegally accessed ReadyOp, a state emergency alert messaging system.
Investigators determined that the message was sent from Jones’ home in Tallahassee. According to the FDLE, evidence recovered after a search warrant was executed on Dec. 7 shows that Jones illegally accessed the system and sent a message to approximately 1,700 people.
The Nov. 10 message, obtained by the Sun-Sentinel, pleaded with recipients 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.”
Jones has denied sending the email, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
“FDLE found no evidence of a message sent last Nov. to DOH staff telling them to ‘speak out’ on any of the devices they took -- the entire basis for the raid on my home in Dec.,” Jones tweeted. “Still, the state has issued a warrant for my arrest -- even though the ‘crime’ is not related to the warrant.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a Dec. 11 news conference that Jones became known because she alleged a conspiracy at the Department of Health, WPLG reported.
“It is unfounded and never proven at all. She was fired because she wasn’t doing a good job. You think that would be the end of it,” DeSantis told reporters during the news conference. “Obviously, she has issues.”
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