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Florida data scientist who says she was ousted over COVID numbers sues state

Lawyers for Rebekah Jones say a police raid on her home earlier this month was an illegal act of retaliation.

The Florida data scientist who says state officials fired her for refusing to change coronavirus numbers sued authorities Monday, alleging that a police raid on her home earlier this month was an illegal act of retaliation.

In a 19-page complaint filed in Tallahassee circuit court, lawyers for Rebekah Jones argued that officials with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement carried out the Dec. 7 raid to “silence” her online speech and curry favor with Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has criticized Jones and whose office said she was fired in May for repeated “insubordination.”

Jones, who helped develop the state’s coronavirus dashboard, attributed her ouster to her refusal to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.”

Rebekah Jones.MSNBC

Jones has since filed a whistleblower complaint with state officials and developed another coronavirus dashboard that her suit describes as popular with scientists and medical professionals for its “scrupulously accurate and honest data.”

The department executed the Dec. 7 search warrant 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.”

The suit describes agents with their guns drawn aggressively entering her home before one unnamed agent allegedly “ran his hands up and down her ribs and grasped her sides just below her breasts and held her” while Jones’ stood with her arms raised.

During a two-hour search, the agents seized Jones’ computer, cell phone and other devices that composed her “entire data and reporting infrastructure,” the suit says.

In an interview with NBC News earlier this month, Jones denied sending the Nov. 10 message, and the suit suggests that someone could have spoofed her IP address to access the state-run communications platform. The suit notes that state officials had posted the platform’s login credentials on the internet.

After the raid, the suit says, Jones and her family started receiving hate mail and harassing phone calls after state law enforcement officials released a warrant that included her home address and other personal information. (NBC News redacted that information.)

“She has been placed in such fear for her and her family’s safety that she is pulling up roots and moving out of state,” the suit says.

Asked earlier this month about the raid, the top official at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said that agents "entered the home in accordance with normal protocols" after they called Jones and knocked on the front door of her home.

Jones hung up on the agents, said department commissioner Rick Swearingen, who is named in the suit.

In a statement Monday, Swearingen said that he was “proud of the professionalism shown by our FDLE agents as they served a legal search warrant on the residence of Rebekah Jones. Our criminal investigation continues, and while I have not seen this lawsuit, I believe the facts will come out in court.”

The suit seeks at least $30,000 in damages and the release of Jones’ computer and other devices.