Former Florida Department of Health worker Rebekah Jones turned herself over to authorities on Sunday and was arrested for allegedly getting unauthorized access into the state’s emergency messaging system.
Jones turned herself in to the Leon County Detention Facility on Sunday evening after a warrant was put out for her arrest. She was arrested and charged with unauthorized access of a state computer system. The felony charge carries a sentence of up to 5 years in prison if she is convicted. She exited the jail the next day after posting bail, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Prosecutors claim that Jones logged into a state database and downloaded contact information for roughly 19,000 Florida residents. The contact information was given to the state “for emergency contact purposes.”
Jones has maintained her innocence.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) raided Jones’ home in December after an emergency message was sent to thousands of Floridians that read: “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 had previously worked for the state department of health on the team that ran its coronavirus dashboard, providing updated information on cases, deaths, and other statistics from across the state. Jones was fired from her position in May, claiming that she was targeted after refusing to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.”
The former health department worker’s claim ignited an uproar in national media, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was criticized for allegedly hiding necessary data on the pandemic from the public. Notably, Florida’s coronavirus data has received praise from experts such as Dr. Deborah Birx, who lead the White House’s response to the coronavirus.
DeSantis responded to allegations that the state was attempting to hide the impact of the coronavirus on his state, asserting that Jones was fired after “repeated course of insubordination … including her unilateral decisions to modify the Department’s COVID-19 dashboard without input or approval from the epidemiological team or her supervisors.”
“Accuracy and transparency are always indispensable, especially during an unprecedented public health emergency such as COVID-19,” the governor continued in a statement. “Having someone disruptive cannot be tolerated during this public pandemic, which led the Department to determine that it was best to terminate her employment.”
DeSantis added to his remarks while speaking to a reporter who questioned him on Jones’ firing.
“She’s not a data scientist. She’s somebody that’s got a degree in journalism, communication & geography,” DeSantis said. “She is not involved in collating any data; she does not have the expertise to do that. She is not an epidemiologist; she is not the chief architect of our web portal; that is another false statement, and what she was doing was she was putting data on the portal which the scientists didn’t believe was valid data. So she didn’t listen to the people who were her superiors; she had many people above her in the chain of command, and so then she was dismissed because of that and because of a bunch of different reasons about how she did.”
Jones had claimed that the December raid on her house was retaliation for her speaking out. According to the affidavit of the raid, the state received a warrant to search her house after tracking down the message’s sender to her IP address.