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Data scientist charged with unlawfully accessing state messaging system

Judge denies state requests to restrict Jones' access to internet

By Nathan Mayberg - Editor | Jan 19, 2021

Rebekah Jones, the Florida Department of Health data scientist who was fired last year over what she claimed was her refusal to manipulate COVID-19 statistics, faces a third-degree felony charge over allegations she illegally accessed a Florida Department of Health messaging system.

Jones allegedly sent out the message through the messaging system “to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead. You know this is wrong. You don’t have to be a part of this. Be a hero.”

Jones turned herself into authorities and was booked into Leon County Jail before appearing in court on Monday. She appeared in front of Leon County Second Judicial Circuit Judge John Cooper, who released her on $2,500 bond.

In a charging document warrant message from Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agent Noel Pratt, it was requested that Jones be barred from using the internet or having access to a computer.

State prosecutor Sarah Dugan also requested an active GPS ankle bracelet due to a previous case involving pre-trial conditions and her having moved to Washington D.C.

One of the attorneys for Jones, Louis J. Baptiste, argued against the bail conditions of blocking internet access.

“It’s literally trying to kill a gnat with an axe. It’s simply not practical,” Baptiste said. Such conditions have nothing to do with her returning to court, he said.

Her other attorney Stephen Dobson called the state’s request to bar internet access “overkill.”

Dobson said Jones is unemployed and trying to find employment in Washington D.C.

Cooper said Jones had no history of violent crimes and set her bond at $2,500, which she posted.

Cooper also denied the state attorney’s request to bar her from internet access or use GPS monitoring.

“In this day and age, if I put a total restriction on computers and internet, I might just be very well be telling to Mrs. Jones you can’t get a job until this is over,” Cooper said.

Cooper said Jones is restricted from accessing a state computer system that she may have had prior access to, or any information she may have garnered to access state computer systems.

Jones has a lawsuit against the state over her firing, as well as a lawsuit over the execution of a search warrant in December of her home in which she alleged guns were pointed at her and her children in the recovery of electronic devices as part of the state’s investigation into the alleged intrusion of the state messaging system.