Under fire for strong-arm tactics, DeSantis lashes out at former data scientist Rebekah Jones

TALLAHASSEE – Gov. Ron DeSantis lashed out Friday at a former Florida data scientist turned whistleblower whose home was raided by a state law enforcement team wielding a sledgehammer earlier this week.

“Just because you’re a darling of some corners of the fever swamps, that does not exempt you from following the law,” DeSantis said during an appearance in Tampa.

The video of law enforcement’s arrival at the Tallahassee home of Rebekah Jones has gone viral and the former health department data scientist has denied allegations that she accessed a state emergency alert system to urge former co-workers to speak out about the DeSantis administration’s handling of the coronavirus.

DeSantis said Friday that what Jones is accused of doing is “clearly a felony offense.” Jones, who has not been charged, was fired from the Department of Health in May.

Rebekah Jones: Former Florida COVID-19 data scientist pushes back after raid on home

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers a question during a roundtable meeting with transportation industry leaders at the Hilton Orlando-Bonnet Creek Resort in Orlando, Fla., Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. DeSantis addressed coronavirus and state transportation construction concerns. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers a question during a roundtable meeting with transportation industry leaders at the Hilton Orlando-Bonnet Creek Resort in Orlando, Fla., Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. DeSantis addressed coronavirus and state transportation construction concerns. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers a question during a roundtable meeting with transportation industry leaders at the Hilton Orlando-Bonnet Creek Resort in Orlando, Fla., Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. DeSantis addressed coronavirus and state transportation construction concerns. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

Jones said she was let go by the agency for refusing to falsify data on COVID-19.

The governor said that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s approach to the case followed investigative guidelines. While a body-camera recording of the incident shows an officer apparently poised to use a sledgehammer to open a door if Jones continued to refuse to respond to the team’s phone calls and knocks, DeSantis defended officers.

DeSantis also sidestepped when asked if he knew the raid was about to occur.

“I knew there was an investigation,” DeSantis said. “I didn’t know what they were going…and it’s not a raid. I mean, with all due respect, what you just said is editorializing. These people did their jobs. They’ve been smeared as the Gestapo for doing their jobs.”

At least four armed officers are shown in the doorway and hall of Rebekah Jones' home.At least four armed officers are shown in the doorway and hall of Rebekah Jones' home.
At least four armed officers are shown in the doorway and hall of Rebekah Jones’ home.

DeSantis said that in the course of the investigation an Internet Protocol (IP) address attached to a computer at Jones’ home was used to access the state site.

“They did a search warrant. Why did they do a search warrant on the house? Because her IP address was linked to the felony. What were they supposed to do? Just ignore it?” DeSantis said.

Jones has made several appearances on national television since law enforcement seized her computer and cellular phone. Jones, who has created an online database that challenges some of the state’s own reporting on COVID-19, says she thinks the state’s action is designed to threaten dissidents within the governor’s own administration.

DeSantis denied her claims. “I think Floridians want government to protect them,” he said. “They want these sensitive systems to be protected.”

Follow John Kennedy on Twitter: @JKennedyReport.

This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Florida’s DeSantis defends raid, attacks data scientist Rebekah Jones

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