Whistleblower or hacker? Police raid former Florida COVID-19 researcher with guns drawn

Is Rebekah Jones a whistleblower, bravely calling shenanigans on Florida’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic? Or is she a hacker who maliciously broke into the state’s health-care databases to further her self-promotion?

It’s tough to tell at the moment, but it’s equally unclear why police pulled their guns on her entire family:

Florida authorities investigating an alleged hack into the state’s emergency response system raided the home Monday of a woman fired earlier this year from her job as COVID-19 data curator. Florida Department of Law Enforcement said that Rebekah Jones, who was fired for unauthorized public comments about the data in May, has been under investigation since early November when someone illegally accessed the state’s emergency alert health system.

Jones tweeted video of the officers entering her home, claiming Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis “sent the gestapo” to silence her. …

Agents served the search warrant on her Tallahassee home after receiving a complaint from the Department of Health regarding unauthorized access to its emergency alert system, according to a statement from FDLE.

“Agents believe someone at the residence on Centerville Court illegally accessed the system,” spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said in a statement.

Jones initially refused to answer the door for 20 minutes and hung up when agents called her, according to FDLE.

According to video footage Jones posted of the incident, multiple officers who entered Jones’ home had their guns drawn. One pointed his gun up the stairs as authorities urged Jones to call her husband and children downstairs. The officer then lowered his weapon after Jones yelled, “Do not point that gun at my children!”

“They pointed a gun in my face. They pointed guns at my kids,” Jones later tweeted.

It is unclear whether authorities pointed weapons at anyone in Jones’ home.

Police later said they never pointed their weapons at anyone, but that seems like a fine distinction at best. They had their guns out and were pointing them upstairs, which is enough to unnerve anyone. That is a standard tactic for making felony arrests for violent criminals, but it’s a little strange to see it deployed for a search warrant on a hacking charge. Perhaps this can be justified by Jones’ refusal to answer the door, but it bears explanation — and it doesn’t look good for Florida law enforcement, considering the politics around this case.

On the hacking charge itself, Jones might have some real trouble. She has denied sending that message, but if — as investigators claim — they can track any entry into their system from Jones’ IP address, she can be charged for an illegal intrusion regardless what she did while in their system. It doesn’t matter if the system had a group login or some kind of back door. The point would be that Jones didn’t have authorization to enter the system after being fired six months earlier. If she entered their system anyway, the method wouldn’t matter much at all.

The question of whether Jones is a hacker or a whistleblower will undoubtedly complicate that process. Brad Slager wrote about this issue in May, when he concluded that Jones was engaged in a political attack on Gov. Ron DeSantis and not a whistleblower at all. Jones still has her defenders, who claim DeSantis is trying to silence Jones as a cover-up. Having guns drawn in the police warrant service isn’t making their case look any worse, let’s just say:

So is Jones a whistleblower exposing a COVID-19 cover-up, or a hacking self-promoter? It’ll have to get unwound in court now, but just keep this in mind: those choices are not mutually exclusive.

Update: Local reporter Evan Donovan’s done a good job following up on these developments. Read the whole thread, but nothing in it explains the tactics used. That’s not to say there isn’t a good explanation, but thus far none has been offered other than Jones waited 20 minutes to respond to the door.