- Florida police brandishing guns conducted a raid Monday morning on the home of Rebekah Jones, a former data analyst for the Florida Department of Health who created and ran the state’s COVID-19 dashboard before being fired in May.
- Jones, who claimed she was fired from her role after refusing to manipulate COVID-19 data to support the state’s broad reopening plans, accused Gov. DeSantis of being behind the raid and sending the “Gestapo” to silence her. DeSantis denied the claim.
- Law enforcement said they conducted the raid while serving a warrant as part of an investigation into whether Jones illegally hacked into a state email system and sent a message to employees.
- Jones denied having any involvement in that incident and claimed that the hardware seized in the raid had “evidence of illegal activities by the state” as well as legal proof that state officials had lied to the public.
The Saga Rebekah Jones
Florida state police officers on Monday raided the home of Rebekah Jones, a former Department of Health data analyst who built the state’s COVID-19 dashboard and accused officials of firing her because she refused to manipulate data.
Jones first came out with her story shortly after she was terminated from her role in May. At the time, Jones, who had been widely praised for both creating and managing the tracker, told local reporters that she had been ordered to censor data, but refused to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.”
According to emails obtained by The Tampa Bay Times, Jones had “objected to the removal of records showing people had symptoms or positive tests before the cases were announced.”
“Department staff gave the order shortly after reporters requested the same data from the agency on May 5,” the emails showed.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) denied the accusations, called Jones’ removal a “nonissue,” and claimed she was fired because she was insubordinate. He also downplayed her role in developing the COVID-19 dashboard while casting doubt on her credentials and painting her as a disruptive employee and a criminal.
DeSantis specifically pointed to unrelated charges of cyberstalking and cyber sexual harassment from July 2019. The latter charge has been dropped, though DeSantis falsely claimed it was still open. He argued that these other factors were also part of the reason Jones was fired.
But Jones, who disputed DeSantis’ account, continued to fight back. In June, she launched her own dashboard of Flordia coronavirus data that she bills as a more transparent and independent alternative to the state’s tracker.
In July, she filed a whistleblower complaint against the Health Department asking for her job to be reinstated with pay. She has also reportedly been very vocal on social media, posting criticisms of DeSantis and his state agencies.
Jones’ Home Raided
The news of the raid on Jones’ home was first made public in a now-viral video of the incident she posted on Twitter.
In the video, Jones opens the doors and is escorted out of her home by an officer while several others enter brandishing firing arms. They ask who else is in her house and she responds that her two children and husband are inside before the officers point their weapons at the staircase and call for them to come downstairs, saying they have a search warrant.
“Do not point that gun at my children! He just pointed a gun at my children!” Jones can be heard yelling over the officer’s calls.
In the tweet where she shared the video, Jones also claimed that the officers, who were “serving a warrant on my computer after [Department of Health] filed a complaint” pointed the gun in her face took all her hardware, including “evidence of corruption at the state level.”
“They claimed it was about a security breach. This was DeSantis. He sent the gestapo,” she wrote.
“This is what happens to scientists who do their job honestly. This is what happens to people who speak truth to power. I tell them my husband and my two children are upstairs… and THEN one of them draws his gun. On my children. This is Desantis’ Florida.”
Shortly after Jones shared the video, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) confirmed in a statement that they had seized Jones’ computer equipment while executing a search warrant.
The spokesperson also claimed that when the agents arrived, they first knocked on Jones’ door and called her “in an attempt to minimize disruption to the family.”
“Ms. Jones refused to come to the door for 20 minutes and hung up on agents,” the spokesperson said. “After several attempts and verbal notifications that law enforcement officers were there to serve a legal search warrant, Ms. Jones eventually came to the door and allowed agents to enter.”
In an interview with The Times, Jones said it was not true that she refused to open the door. She claimed the delay was due to the fact that she was taking her time getting dressed because she believed she was going to be arrested.
In a separate statement, the FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen told reporters that the agents had “entered the home in accordance with normal protocols and seized several devices that will be forensically analyzed.”
Swearingen also disputed Jones’ claim that guns were pointed at her and her children, claiming that “at no time were weapons pointed at anyone in the home.”
As for why the FDLE was serving that warrant, according to an affidavit by an investigator with the department, it was in connection to an investigation the agency launched after the Health Department reported that an unauthorized person had illegally accessed a state government emergency management system to send a group text message to government officials encouraging them to take action.
“It’s time to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead,” the message said. “You know this is wrong. You don’t have to be part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it’s too late.”
The investigator claimed in the affidavit that he had traced the message to an IP address associated with Jones’ house.
However, as IT experts explained to the Tallahassee Democrat: “An IP address identifies the location that an Internet connection was made but doesn’t prove that Jones sent the text message.”
Jones Denies Hacking Accusations
Jones denied the allegations while speaking to reporters later on Monday. In an interview with The Times, she said that she was not a hacker and would not have known how to enter the system and send the message.
“DeSantis publicly said I’m not a data scientist, I’m not a computer scientist and I wouldn’t even know what to do if I saw a database, and now he’s accusing me of hacking one,” she said. “It’s a real 180 there. I’m not a hacker. I don’t hack. I don’t know s— about computers. I know how to do statistics.”
In another interview with CNN, Jones claimed that the language in the unauthorized text message did not match the way she talked and contained obvious errors that she would not make.
“The number of deaths that the person used wasn’t even right,” she noted. “They were actually under by about 430 deaths. I would never round down 430 deaths.”
Jones also told CNN that she has not had access to any Health Department systems for six months and that all information she had was accessed legally from reports or sent to her from other people still working for the government.
She additionally claimed that some of the drives taken by the police contained legal “proof that (state officials) were lying in January about things like internal reports and notices from the CDC,” as well as “evidence of illegal activities by the state.”
“This is what happens when you challenge powerful and corrupt people,” she said, again accusing DeSantis of orchestrating the raid. “If he thinks this is going to scare me into silence, he’s wrong.”
DeSantis, for his part, has denied any involvement in the raid.
“The governor’s office had no involvement, no knowledge, no nothing, of this investigation,” In a spokesperson for his office said Monday, adding that the FDLE launched the investigation before anyone knew about Jones’ alleged involvement.
See what others are saying: (The Tallahassee Democrat) (The Tampa Bay Times) (CNN)
Bodycam Footage Shows Adam Toledo Wasn’t Holding Gun When an Officer Shot Him
- Chicago officials released body camera footage Thursday which showed that 13-year-old Adam Toledo, who was shot and killed by police last month, had put his hands up in the air right before the officer opened fire.
- The graphic video showed the officer, who has now been identified as Eric Stillman, yelling at Adam to stop as he chases him through an alley.
- The teenager obeyed and stopped by a fence, where he can be seen holding what appears to be a gun behind his back. Stillman ordered him to drop it, and then shot him a split second after Adam raised his empty hands in the air.
- The footage prompted renewed outrage, protests, and calls for an investigation. A lawyer for the Toledo family called the killing “an assassination,” while Stillman’s lawyer defended the officer, and claimed he acted appropriately.
Officer Bodycam Footage Made Public
Body camera footage released by Chicago officials Thursday showed that Adam Toledo, a 13-year-old boy killed by police last month, had his hands up when he was fatally shot.
The footage, which was released as part of a report by the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA), showed officers chasing Adam, who was Latino, through an alley in the predominantly Latino neighborhood of Little Village during the early hours of March 29.
The officer ordered Adam to stop. The teenager complied and halted by the side of a fence, holding what looks like a gun in one of his hands behind his back. The policeman yelled at him to drop it and show his hands.
Adam turned and lifted his empty hands, and the officer fired his weapon, striking the teenager once in the chest. The policeman is then seen administering CPR and asking him, “You alright? Where you shot?” while blood poured out of his mouth.
The COPA report published Thursday also identified the officer who shot Adam as 34-year-old Eric Stillman, who is white, and whose lawyer said he had been put on administrative duties for 30 days.
Stillman’s lawyer also argued that the shooting was justified, as did John Catanzara, president of the Fraternal Order of Police.
“He was 100% right,” Catanzara said. “The offender still turned with a gun in his hand. This occurred in eight-tenths of a second.”
Renewed Backlash and Protests
Adeena Weiss Ortiz, an attorney obtained by Adam’s family, said they are looking into taking legal action against Stillman.
“If you’re shooting an unarmed child with his arms in the air, it’s an assassination,” she said at a news conference Thursday.
Ortiz acknowledged the bodycam footage did appear to show Adam holding something that “could be a gun,” but argued the video must be independently analyzed to confirm.
“It’s not relevant because he tossed the gun,” she said. “If he had a gun, he tossed it.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois also echoed Ortiz’s demands on Thursday, calling for a “complete and transparent” investigation.
“The video released today shows that police shot Adam Toledo even though his hands were raised in the air,” said Colleen Connell, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois.
“The people of Chicago deserve answers about the events surrounding this tragic interaction. The anger and frustration expressed by many in viewing the video is understandable and cannot be ignored.”
Hours before the video was released, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot pleaded for calm in the city, where anti-police protests have taken place in the weeks following the shooting.
“We must proceed with deep empathy and calm and importantly, peace,” she said. “No family should ever have a video broadcast widely of their child’s last moments, much less be placed in the terrible situation of losing their child in the first place.”
Some businesses in downtown Chicago boarded prepared for violence ahead of the video’s publication by boarding up their windows. City vehicles stood by to block traffic.
However, the demonstrations that took place Thursday were small, peaceful, and spread out over several parts of the city. Organizers said they plan to hold more protests Friday.
See what others are saying: (The Chicago Sun-Times) (The New York Times) (The Chicago Tribune)
Eight Dead in Indianapolis Shooting
- Eight people were killed and several more were injured after a gunman opened fire at a FedEx Ground Facility in Indianapolis late Thursday.
- The gunman took his life after opening fire. Authorities have not identified his motive yet.
- According to the Gun Violence Archive, in 2021, there have been 147 U.S. mass shootings, defined as verified incidents with four or more gunshot victims.
- President Joe Biden released a statement calling gun violence “an epidemic in America,” adding, “We should not accept it. We must act.”
Eight Killed in Shooting
Eight people were killed and several others have been wounded after a gunman opened fire at a FedEx Ground Facility in Indianapolis late Thursday.
The gunman killed four people in the parking lot then four people inside before taking his own life, according to local officials. Authorities have identified the gunman and are searching his home, but have not disclosed any potential motives.
“There was no confrontation with anyone that was there,” Deputy Chief Craig McCartt of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said during a press conference. “There was no disturbance, there was no argument. He just appeared to randomly start shooting.”
Several witnesses told local outlets they initially thought the gunshots were engines backfiring or another type of mechanical noise until they saw the gunman. Some said they heard him shouting indistinctly before opening fire. The investigation is still in very early stages and victims have not yet been identified.
The facility employs 4,500 team members. It is unclear how many were working at the time of the shooting. FedEx released a statement expressing its condolences to the victims and their families.
“We are deeply shocked and saddened by the loss of our team members following the tragic shooting at our FedEx Ground facility in Indianapolis,” the statement read. “Our most heartfelt sympathies are with all those affected by this senseless act of violence. The safety of our team members is our top priority, and we are fully cooperating with investigating authorities.”
Gun Violence in the U.S.
This tragedy follows a recent string of mass shootings in the U.S., including in Atlanta, Colorado, Southern California, and Texas. According to the Associated Press, this is at least the third in Indianapolis this year.
The Gun Violence Archive has logged a total of 147 mass shootings in the U.S. so far in 2021. The organization defines mass shootings as reported and verified incidents with at least four gunshot victims.
Several politicians have released statements about the shooting, including Vice President Kamala Harris, who said this pattern “must end.”
“Yet again we have families in our country that are grieving the loss of their family members because of gun violence,” she said. “There is no question that this violence must end, and we are thinking of the families that lost their loved ones.”
President Joe Biden also released a statement saying that, “Too many Americans are dying every single day from gun violence. It stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation.”
“Gun violence is an epidemic in America,” Biden added. “But we should not accept it. We must act.”
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett echoed those remarks in a news conference.
“The scourge of gun violence that has killed far too many in our community and in our country,” he said.
“Our prayers are with the families of those whose lives were cut short,” he added on Twitter.
Hogsett is among 150 U.S. mayors who recently signed a letter asking the Senate to take up gun legislation, including expanding background checks.
Editor’s Note: At Rogue Rocket, we make it a point to not include the names and pictures of mass murders or suspected mass murderers who may have been seeking attention or infamy. Therefore, we will not be linking to other sources, as they may contain these details.
Soldier Charged With Assault After Shoving Black Man in Viral Video
- Authorities charged Army soldier Jonathan Pentland with third-degree assault and battery on Wednesday after a viral video showed him shoving a Black man while yelling at him to leave a South Carolina neighborhood.
- Many people, including dozens who protested outside Pentland’s home this week, condemned the confrontation as another instance of someone being attacked for “walking while Black.”
- Pentland and others claimed the unidentified man was picking a fight with neighbors, which the man denied, but police said nothing that may have happened earlier justified Pentland’s actions.
- If convicted, Pentland faces a $500 fine and 30 days in jail.
A U.S. soldier was charged with assault on Wednesday after a video that circulated online showed him yelling at and shoving a Black man in a South Carolina neighborhood.
Footage of the April 8 incident was posted to social media Monday. It shows the Army soldier, Jonathan Pentland, confronting the unidentified man and telling him to leave the neighborhood.
The other man explains that he’s just walking through the area and doing nothing wrong, but Pentland becomes increasingly aggressive. “You better walk away,” he shouts at the man after shoving him.
“You either walk away, or I’m gonna carry your ass out of here,” he continues before adding, “You’re in the wrong neighborhood motherf*ker. Get out!”
The man then tries to tell Pentland that he lives in the neighborhood, and Pentland then asks for his address, which he does not give.
The confrontation continues with Pentland cursing and getting in the man’s face. As he does so, the man says that Pentland smells drunk.
It’s unclear what exactly led up to the confrontation, but in the video, a woman off-camera says the man “picked a fight with some random young lady that’s one of our neighbors.”
“I don’t even know who she is. Nobody picked a fight when someone ran up on me,” the man replies. Another woman off-screen then encourages the man to leave with her, saying, “What’s your name? Come on. You don’t want no trouble.”
Video Triggers Protests Outside Pentland’s Home
After this video spread online, many social media users condemned it as another instance of someone being attacked for “walking while Black.”
In fact, protesters even began demonstrating outside of Penland’s home. Those protests started off peaceful, but deputies were then called after 8 p.m. because unknown individuals vandalized the house. That forced police to shut down access to the area and remove Pentland’s family to another location.
As far as the viral video, deputies were told that the man approached “several neighbors in a threatening manner” and that someone had asked Pentland to “intervene.”
Police did confirm that there are two reports of alleged assault against the unnamed man Pentland shoved that are being investigated. However, they also added that the man has “an underlying medical condition that may explain the behavior exhibited in the alleged incidents.”
Either way, police said whatever happened earlier did not justify Pentland’s actions. He was ultimately arrested Wednesday morning and was charged with third-degree assault and battery. He faces a $500 fine and 30 days in jail if convicted.
“We’re not going to let people be bullies in our community,” Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said at a news conference Wednesday. “And if you are, you’re going to answer for it, and that’s what we’ve done in this case.”
On top of that, the Justice Department reportedly was investigating. Pentland’s Commanding General even issued a statement condemning his behavior, adding that Pentland “brought disrespect to @fortjackson our Army and the trust with the public we serve.”