Ousted Florida health scientist files lawsuit over state raid of her home
A former data manager for the Florida Department of Health sued the state Monday, alleging a recent police raid on her house was an illegal act of retaliation.
Rebekah Jones has said she was fired from the health department in May for refusing to alter state coronavirus data. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has said she was fired for insubordination.
The lawsuit names the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), FDLE Secretary Rick Swearingen and several agents. It argues the Dec. 7 house raid violated Jones’s rights under the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments.
“We are trying to achieve some kind of redress,” said lead attorney Rick Johnson, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. “This is still America. This is the kind of thing that happens in tinhorn dictatorships in third world countries.”
On the morning of Dec. 7 , a team of FDLE agents and Tallahassee police served a search warrant at Jones’s residence, saying they were investigating a security breach of the department’s network.
“She thought she was going to be arrested,” Johnson said. “If they are pounding on the door without mentioning a warrant of any kind to arrest or search, a citizen doesn’t have to open the door to police.”
Footage of the raid shows Johnson opening her door after police tell her they have a warrant.
The lawsuit calls the raid an attempt to silence Jones for her public claims about the reasons for her firing, saying “the basis of the warrant was a sham to punish plaintiff for Plaintiff’s protected speech.”
Swearingen defended the department’s conduct on Dec. 7, saying, “I am proud of the professionalism shown by our FDLE agents as they served a legal search warrant on the residence of Rebekah Jones.”
“Our criminal investigation continues, and while I have not seen this lawsuit, I believe the facts will come out in court,” he added.
Jones has not alleged outright fabrication of COVID-19 data by Florida officials but has said the state used sleight of hand to mislead with tactics such as only reporting the rate of new positive coronavirus tests and exempting more rural, less densely populated areas from statewide reopening standards.
DeSantis came under criticism in May when Florida became one of the first states to reopen following the initial COVID-19 surge in April. The state’s case count later shot up.