The Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Thursday released body camera footage showing its raid on Rebekah Jones’ house earlier this week.
The COVID-19 whistleblower and former Florida Department of Health official has accused Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) of dispatching the officers in a bid to chill her criticism of his coronavirus response.
The two videos made public on Thursday show officers milling about outside Jones’ house for 23 minutes on Monday morning as they attempt to serve the warrant, repeatedly identifying themselves as police and banging on the door.
Once Jones exits the house, at least one officer points a gun at her. Another restrains her as she repeatedly yells at the police to stop pointing a gun at her children.
“He’s pointing a gun up the stairs at my children,” Jones forcefully says at one point.
“That was not smart what you’re doing, OK,” an officer responds, apparently reprimanding her for taking so long to come outside. “You need to calm down and get your head right because you’re making all the wrong decisions.”
Jones says that “the last time that you guys came,” her lawyer told her not to answer the door. “What are you looking for?” she asks. “Are you looking for a person?”
It’s unclear if any of the officers who entered the house were wearing body cameras. The Department of Law Enforcement only provided footage from one officer who remained outside.
Internal security camera footage that Jones released on Monday shows at least two officers with unholstered weapons inside the house, although the video cuts off before any children enter the frame.
Officers seized computers, phones and other tech hardware that Jones had in her Tallahassee home, acting on a Department of Health allegation that she’d sent an unauthorized message to department employees last month encouraging them to speak out about COVID-19 deaths.
“It’s time to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead,” read the message, sent to roughly 1,750 people on Nov. 10. “You know this is wrong. You don’t have to be part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it’s too late.”
Jones told The New York Times that she had nothing to do with sending those messages, noting that the actual number of deaths in Florida at the time was 17,640 and insisting that she would never have rounded the number down.
The Department of Health’s system was also woefully insecure: All of the accounts with access to the internal emergency alert system shared the same username and password. Jones’ attorney, Stephen S. Dobson III, told the Times that the login information was also widely shared and written on at least three boards at the department.
“They took my phone and the computer I use every day to post the case numbers in Florida, and school cases for the entire country,” Jones tweeted after the raid Monday.
“They took evidence of corruption at the state level,” she continued. “They claimed it was about a security breach. This was DeSantis. He sent the gestapo.”
DeSantis’ office didn’t respond to a request for comment from HuffPost regarding those claims.
Jones has maintained an independent, public-facing COVID-19 dashboard since May, when she was fired from her job as a data scientist after she’s 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 has said. She’s also said that she was asked to remove evidence of people testing positive for the virus in January.
In a release Thursday, the Department of Law Enforcement said the video footage exonerates its officers of allegations of wrongdoing during the raid.
“This video demonstrates that FDLE agents exercised extreme patience,” department Commissioner Rick Swearingen said in a statement. “Search warrants are one of the most dangerous events a law enforcement officer will engage in and many officers are killed each year during the execution of search warrants.”
“Agents afforded Ms. Jones ample time to come to the door and resolve this matter in a civil and professional manner,” Swearingen added. “As this video will demonstrate, any risk or danger to Ms. Jones or her family was the result of her actions.”
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