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

Bail set at $2,500 for Rebekah Jones, who alleges a warrant was made out for her arrest on a charge unrelated to a December raid on her home.

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 that officials ousted her from her position because she refused 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, officials said, before facing a judge on Monday.

Leon Circuit Judge John Cooper said Jones could go free after posting a $2,500 bond. She was charged with accessing a computer system without authorized access, a third-degree felony.

Prosecutors had asked that Jones be kept away from all computers, internet access and potential witnesses and be monitored with a GPS ankle bracelet while out on bail.

But Cooper said that those conditions would be unnecessarily strict and ruled that Jones could have access to computers and the internet as long as she steers clear of anyone involved in her case.

Cooper also declined to have Jones, who has moved to Washington, D.C., monitored by GPS.

Jones announced on social media Saturday that she planned to turn 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
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 that 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 on Sunday that agents were working with Jones’ attorneys on her surrender and would release more information after Jones was in custody.

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.”