Florida data scientist in battle with state over Covid dashboard turns herself in

The Florida data scientist, who alleged state officials fired her for refusing to change coronavirus numbers, surrendered to law enforcement Sunday night, a month after authorities raided her home.

Rebekah Jones, who helped develop Florida’s Covid-19 dashboard, has been in a monthslong public battle with the state since she alleged officials ousted her from her position for her refusal to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.”

She surrendered to authorities on Sunday and spent the night in a Leon County jail, sheriff’s Deputy Shade McMillian said Monday.

Jones announced on social media Saturday that she planned on turning herself in: “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.”

Image: Rebekah Jones (MSNBC)
Image: Rebekah Jones (MSNBC)

A search warrant was executed on Jones’ Tallahassee home after she allegedly accessed a Department of Health-run communications platform and sent a Nov. 10 group text warning users that it was “time to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead.”

She has denied the accusations and filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming the Dec. 7 raid was initiated to “silence” her online speech and curry favor with Gov. Ron DeSantis. Authorities seized Jones’ computer, cell phone and other devices.

In her Twitter thread on Saturday, Jones alleged a warrant was made out for her arrest on a charge unrelated to the December raid and that authorities have not found evidence she sent the Nov. 10 message.

“However, police did find documents I received/downloaded from sources in the state, or something of that nature… it isn’t clear at this point what exactly they’re saying I had that I shouldn’t have had, but an agent confirmed it has nothing to do with the subject of the warrant,” Jones said. “The raid was based on a lie.”

Jones also alleged that an agent told her lawyer that if she spoke out against police, authorities may add more charges against her in an attempt to censor her speech.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed to NBC News Sunday that agents were working with Jones’ attorneys on her surrender and would release more information after Jones was in custody.

It’s unclear what charge Jones faces upon her surrender. Jones’ lawyer declined to comment on the matter to NBC News.

Jones’ departure from the state’s health department came after it stopped releasing the list of coronavirus deaths being reported by the Florida’s medical examiners — a tally that, at times, was reportedly 10 percent higher than the official state tally.

A spokeswoman for DeSantis alleged in a statement following Jones’ allegations in May that Jones “exhibited a repeated course of insubordination” and “blatant disrespect.”

Jones has since sought whistleblower protections and developed another coronavirus dashboard, which she described in her lawsuit against the state as “scrupulously accurate and honest data.”