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Florida police were after a covid-19 data scientist. She turned herself in — and tested positive.

Florida police officers raided the home of ousted health department data scientist Rebekah Jones on Dec. 7. (Video: Rebekah Jones)
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First, Florida health officials fired data scientist Rebekah Jones, accusing her of repeated insubordination as she was putting together the state’s coronavirus dashboard. Then, after she started her own website to publish pandemic data, armed police officers raided her home in Tallahassee. Last week, a warrant was issued for her arrest for computer crimes.

So Jones, who has clashed with Florida officials as she claims they tried to manipulate official numbers on the pandemic, turned herself in to authorities over the weekend.

“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,” Jones wrote on Twitter. “The Governor will not win his war on science and free speech.”

After posting bail and being released Monday from a jail in Tallahassee, she told reporters that she had tested positive for the coronavirus while in custody. Her lawyer, Stephen Dobson, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post.

Florida fired its coronavirus data scientist. Now she’s publishing the statistics on her own.

Jones’s arrest and diagnosis are the latest developments in a contentious public battle between the 31-year-old and state officials since she was fired from the Florida Department of Health in May. As she has accused the state of mismanaging the pandemic, she says she’s being silenced by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and his administration.

Jones, who had worked as a geographic information systems manager, said she objected to what she considered unethical requests from her supervisors to change the state’s coronavirus data dashboard. For instance, she claims, she was asked to undercount infections and over-count the number of people tested. (Officials have denied this.)

After her dismissal, Jones launched her own data portal, advertising it as a transparent and independent alternative.

Then, on Nov. 10, state police say, a Florida Department of Health messaging platform was breached by an Internet protocol address that traced back to Jones. Members of a group specializing in public health emergencies received an unauthorized message on the system.

“It’s time to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead,” the message said, according to an affidavit filed by state police. “You know this is wrong. You don’t have to be a part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it’s too late.”

But about a month later, Florida police officers with guns drawn raided Jones’s Tallahassee home, searching for her computer, phone and other hardware she used to operate her independent website.

Florida police raid house of fired data scientist who alleged state manipulated covid-19 stats

The raid drew widespread criticism from several Democratic officials in Florida and prompted at least one Republican appointee, Ron Filipkowski, to step down from a state judicial panel.

“It just seems like it’s not really about any kind of criminal investigation,” Filipkowski told The Post last month. “It’s about intimidation of her and sending a message to people currently working in state government that, ‘This could be you.’”

GOP lawyer appointed by Florida governor resigns state panel in protest over raid on ousted data scientist’s home

Following the raid, Jones continued to speak out on social media and to reporters. Last month, she told CNN she feared state officials would use her electronic devices to identify state employees leaking information.

On Friday, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement obtained a warrant for Jones’s arrest.

By then, she and her family had relocated to Chevy Chase, Md. Police told her that if she did not turn herself in by Monday, she would be arrested in the Washington area, Dobson, her lawyer, told Florida Today.

So over the weekend, she posted one final tweet — “Censored by the state of Florida until further notice” — and drove more than 850 miles to Tallahassee “sick as could be,” Dobson said. Once she was in jail, Dobson and Jones learned she had tested positive for the coronavirus. The Leon County Sheriff’s Office, which manages the facility, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokesperson for FDLE said in a statement to The Post that Jones had been charged under the Florida computer crimes statute for “offenses against users of computers, computer systems, computer networks and electronic devices.”

The agency’s statement added that “evidence retrieved from a search warrant” on Dec. 7, the same day Jones’s home was raided, shows that she “illegally accessed” the health department platform and sent a message to about 1,750 people.

Jones’s arrest warrant, which was obtained by The Post, said the unauthorized message created “doubt and confusion” among those on the system and diverted the attention of about 30 employees to address what they believed was a possible cyberattack.

It also claims she again tried to access the messaging platform on Nov. 12 and downloaded and saved health department data with contact information for tens of thousands of people in Florida, saving it to her own devices.

Dobson told Florida Today that as of Monday afternoon, the Florida state attorney’s office had yet to file formal charges.

According to the newspaper, Jones appeared in court late Monday morning, where a judge set her bond at $2,500. The judge rejected requests from FDLE to ban Jones from using computers and place a GPS tracking device on her.

“It was a little bit of overreach,” Dobson said of the requests. “I think this entire case has been [an] overreach.”