Exclusive: Rebekah Jones pushes back after video released

Chris Persaud
Palm Beach Post

Former Florida coronavirus data chief Rebekah Jones hit back on Thursday against state police claims that bodycam footage shows officers acted appropriately when they raided her home on Monday as part of an investigation before they took hardware she said contains evidence of government wrongdoing.

"You can see there's an officer clearly pointing a gun at my face through the window next to my door," Jones said in an interview with Florida Today.

Florida's Department of Law Enforcement released bodycam footage on Thursday showing officers trying to contact Jones by calling her phone and knocking on her door Monday morning. When they received no response, one officer points a pistol at the door while another holding a sledgehammer demands Jones open the door. She obeys and exits with her hands up, wearing a T-shirt and sweatpants.

The officer with his gun drawn then enters Jones' home. "Do not point that gun at my children!" Jones yells, as her husband and kids walk down the stairs of the two-story house.

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“This video demonstrates that FDLE agents exercised extreme patience," Commissioner Richard Swearingen said Thursday in a statement from FDLE.

"This video does not help FDLE," Jones said in the Florida Today interview, noting that officers repeated her phone number and address, but the department did not retract that information from the video when publishing it. The video also includes her license plate.

"So this looks like a further attempt from FDLE to just cause more trouble for me for releasing the video inside pointing guns at my kids," Jones said.

National media have reported on the raid since Jones recorded it on a camera and posted it to Twitter on Monday. FDLE's bodycam video lacks footage after officers went into her home.

FDLE said in its statement that "agents afforded Ms. Jones ample time to come to the door and resolve this matter in a civil and professional manner. As this video will demonstrate, any risk or danger to Ms. Jones or her family was the result of her actions."

"I had no registered weapons in my name," Jones said. "They know that, they checked that. Me and my husband don't have weapons. I came downstairs in my pajamas. … they were there to serve a search warrant for a computer. This was not some illegal underground drug cartel."

FDLE was issuing a warrant to Jones to justify seizing her computers, smartphones and other electronics as part of a computer hacking investigation. The department says someone gained access to the state's emergency management system and sent a text message to 1,750 recipients saying "It's time 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."

Rebekah Jones: Questions linger over FDLE handling of search warrant as bodycam video released

FDLE has said officers traced the message to Jones' Internet Protocol, or IP, address, associated with Jones' Comcast account, from which they got her address.

Jones denies she sent that message, saying during the Florida Today meeting that the username and password to log into the emergency management system had been publicly available on a state website.

Swearingen, the FDLE commissioner, said in the department's Thursday statement that the media should "demand Ms. Jones release the entirety of the video she recorded while agents were present in her home.” 

But Jones said the recording she posted to Twitter was ended when an officer noticed the camera recording from a table in her home and shut it off.

Since the raid and national coverage of it, Jones has raised nearly $220,000 on GoFundMe, where she said any money not spent on replacing her equipment or hiring a lawyer will go to a legal fund to defend whistleblowers.

Jones has also had to spend some of the money she raised to hire private security, now that her personal information has been publicized, she said. "I have to have moving expenses pretty soon because clearly I'm not safe in the state."

To those who believe she is doing all this for attention, Jones said in the Florida Today interview, "You guys (reporters) know more than anyone that I didn't want this." When the newspaper reported in May that she had been fired, Jones begged the reporter to retract the story. "I hid for five days … thinking everyone would just move on."

The health department fired Jones in May for refusing to falsify coronavirus data that would look friendlier to Gov. Ron DeSantis' push to reopen businesses and public places, she says in a whistleblower complaint filed in July.

Jones could not elaborate on her evidence of falsification because the whistleblower investigation is ongoing, she said.

"I'm being muzzled somewhat by legal advice to say 'Don't show my hand,'" Jones said. But now that FDLE has her computer equipment, she believes they will peruse the data on it.

The hardware the state seized contains evidence of wrongdoing at the highest levels of the state, Jones said, but she still has digital backups of it all. "They thought that they had everything but that's why there's the cloud," she said, referencing online digital file storage services.

If Jones had it her way at the Department of Health, she said, she would've done things differently. "I would've just listened to the science," she said, referencing issues such as a current lack of mask mandates for schools in 20 of Florida's 67 counties.

And like other health scientists, Jones urged people against traveling for Christmas. 

"We really just need to get thru the next few months, let the vaccine do its job, and then slowly get back to normal. It’s hard to give up things… but if we don't skip this one it’s gonna be a lot of of people's last Christmas when it doesn't have to be."