TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A North Florida judge heard arguments Wednesday over whether the Florida Department of Law Enforcement should return computers and phones it seized from the home of former Florida Department of Health analyst Rebekah Jones, but in the end, he didn’t rule either way.
A Leon County judge neither granted nor denied a motion that would have forced Florida’s top law enforcement agency to return the property it seized when investigators executed a search warrant at the Tallahassee home of Rebekah Jones last month.
During the hearing held over zoom on Wednesday, Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper said “I’m not granting relief and I’m not denying relief.” Cooper said he simply didn’t have enough information to determine if the state law enforcement agency needed to return computers and phones it seized at the former data analysts’ home.
But Judge Cooper did put pressure on the state to determine if will be pursuing criminal charges against Jones or drops its case against her.
On Dec. 7, investigators executed a search warrant at Jones’ home. According to investigators, back in November, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) received a complaint from the FL Department of Health (FDOH) that someone hacked into a secure site on its website and sent an anonymous message calling for employees to speak up about FDOH’s handling of COVID-19. Investigators, according to FDLE, tracked the computer used in the hack to Jones’ home. Jones maintains her innocence and says she didn’t send the message.
Jones made national headlines in May when she went public with accusations that FDOH fired her when she said, she was asked but refused to manipulate COVID case numbers around the same time Governor DeSantis announced plans to reopen businesses in the state.
Since her termination, Jones has not been silent and has started reporting COVID case data she collects on her own to a website she created after firing. She’s also a frequent critic on social media about how Florida and Governor Desantis is handling COVID cases across the state.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Jones’ attorney tried to argue that FDLE didn’t have probable cause to search her home in the first place. The judge disagreed. In addition, Jones’ attorney argued that FDLE is robbing Jones of her right to earn a living since she uses a “$12,000” computer they seized to do her own private COVID dashboard work.
Jones could face a 3rd-degree felony if state prosecutors pursue hacking charges. Jones filed a whistleblower’s lawsuit against the Governor over the summer and most recently, filed a lawsuit against FDLE accusing the agency of violating her constitutional rights during the search warrant execution. A spokesperson from FDLE had little to say about today’s hearing only that its investigation “remains active.”