Former Florida data scientist and COVID-19 whistleblower Rebekah Jones turned herself in to authorities Sunday, shortly after a warrant was issued for her arrest amid an investigation into the unauthorized use of the state’s emergency alert system in November.
Jones faces one count of “offenses against users of computers, computer systems, computer networks and electronic devices,” the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said in a statement to NPR on Monday. FDLE did not respond to a request for comment from HuffPost.
Jones assailed the charge in a series of tweets prior to her arrest, and claimed FDLE agents “found no evidence” she was involved in sending the alert in question, which encouraged Department of Health employees “to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead” from COVID-19.
“To protect my family from continued police violence, and to show that I’m ready to fight whatever they throw at me, I’m turning myself into police in Florida Sunday night,” she tweeted.
“The Governor will not win his war on science and free speech. He will not silence those who speak out.”
“The new allegation was issued the day after a Tallahassee judge told police that if they’re not investigating a crime, they had to return my equipment,” Jones tweeted Sunday. “They didn’t find proof of anything related to the warrant, so they invented something new to come after me in retaliation.”
Officers raided Jones’ house on Dec. 7 and seized her cell phone, computers and other tech hardware she uses to maintain an independent public-facing database tracking COVID-19 infections in Florida.
Jones had maintained the dashboard since May, when she was fired from her job as a state data scientist after she said she refused a request from her superiors to manipulate numbers in the state’s official database. The information they asked her to post would have overcounted the number of coronavirus tests performed and undercounted the total number of cases as Florida rushed to reopen its economy, Jones says.
Jones accused Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) of dispatching officers in a bid to chill her criticism of his coronavirus response. She filed suit over the “sham” raid in December, accusing FDLE of violating her First Amendment right to freedom of speech, and unlawful search and seizure.
In her tweets Sunday, Jones said she’d likely have all her computer and internet access cut off as a condition of her release, and was warned by police that speaking to the media might result in additional charges.
“Bogus charges designed to silence and now jail me for being a scientist critical of the government,” she wrote. “That’s the textbook definition of censorship.”
“All this just to silence a critic of a governor who failed to do his job and got thousands killed as a result.”
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