- 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)
Uvalde Puts Police Chief on Leave, Tries to Kick Him Off City Council
If Pete Arredondo fails to attend two more consecutive city council meetings, then he may be voted out of office.
Police Chief Faces Public Fury
Uvalde School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo was placed on administrative leave Wednesday following revelations that he and his officers did not engage the shooter at Robb Elementary for over an hour despite having adequate weaponry and protection.
Superintendent Hal Harrell, who made the announcement, did not specify whether the leave is paid or unpaid.
Harrell said in a statement that the school district would have waited for an investigation to conclude before making any personnel decisions, but chose to order the administrative leave because it is uncertain how long the investigation will take.
Lieutenant Mike Hernandez, the second in command at the police department, will assume Arredondo’s duties.
In an interview with The Texas Tribune earlier this month, Arredondo said he did not consider himself in charge during the shooting, but law enforcement records reviewed by the outlet indicate that he gave orders at the scene.
Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told state senators on Tuesday that some officers wanted to enter the classrooms harboring the shooter but were stopped by their superiors.
He said officer Ruben Ruiz tried to move forward into the hallway after receiving a call from his wife Eva Mireles, a teacher inside one of the classrooms, telling him she had been shot and was bleeding to death.
Ruiz was detained, had his gun taken away, and was escorted off the scene, according to McCraw. Mireles later died of her wounds.
Calls for Arredondo to resign or be fired have persisted.
Emotions Erupt at City Council
Wednesday’s announcement came one day after the Uvalde City Council held a special meeting in which community members and relatives of victims voiced their anger and demanded accountability.
“Who are you protecting?” Asked Jasmine Cazares, sister of Jackie Cazares, a nine-year-old student who was shot. “Not my sister. The parents? No. You’re too busy putting them in handcuffs.”
Much of the anger was directed toward Arredondo, who was not present at the meeting but was elected to the city council on May 7, just over two weeks before the massacre.
“We are having to beg ya’ll to do something to get this man out of our faces,” said the grandmother of Amerie Jo Garza, a 10-year-old victim. “We can’t see that gunman. That gunman got off easy. We can’t take our frustrations out on that gunman. He’s dead. He’s gone. … Ya’ll need to put yourselves in our shoes, and don’t say that none of ya’ll have, because I guarantee you if any of ya’ll were in our shoes, ya’ll would have been pulling every string that ya’ll have to get this man off the council.”
One woman demanded the council refuse to grant Arredondo the leave of absence he had requested, pointing out that if he fails to attend three consecutive meetings the council can vote him out for abandoning his office.
“What you can do right now is not give him, if he requests it, a leave of absence,” she said. “Don’t give him an out. We don’t want him. We want him out.”
After hearing from the residents, the council voted unanimously not to approve the leave of absence.
On Tuesday, Uvalde’s mayor announced that Robb Elementary is set to be demolished, saying no students or teachers should have to return to it after what happened.
We make it a point to not include the names and pictures of those who may have been seeking attention or infamy and will not link out to websites that might contain such information.
Texas Public Safety Director Says Police Response to Uvalde Shooting Was An “Abject Failure”
New footage shows officers prepared to engage the shooter one hour before they entered the classroom.
Seventy-Seven Deadly Minutes
Nearly a month after the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 children and two teachers, evidence has emerged indicating that police were prepared to engage the shooter within minutes of arriving, but chose to wait over an hour.
The shooting at Robb Elementary began at 11:33 a.m., and within three minutes 11 officers are believed to have entered the school, according to surveillance and body camera footage obtained by KVUE and the Austin American Statesman.
District Police Chief Pete Arredondo reportedly called a landline at the police department at 11:40 a.m. for help.
“It’s an emergency right now,” he said. “We have him in the room. He’s got an AR-15. He’s shot a lot… They need to be outside the building prepared because we don’t have firepower right now. It’s all pistols.”
At 11:52 a.m., however, the footage shows multiple officers inside the school armed with at least two rifles and one ballistic shield.
Law enforcement did not enter the adjoined classrooms to engage the shooter until almost an hour later, at 12:50 p.m. During that time, one officer’s daughter was inside the classrooms and another’s wife, a teacher, reportedly called him to say she was bleeding to death.
Thirty minutes before law enforcement entered the classrooms, the footage shows officers had four ballistic shields in the hallway.
Frustrated Cops Want to Go Inside
Some of the officers felt agitated because they were not allowed to enter the classrooms.
One special agent at the Texas Department of Public Safety arrived about 20 minutes after the shooting started, then immediately asked, “Are there still kids in the classrooms?”
“It is unknown at this time,” another officer replied.
“Ya’ll don’t know if there’s kids in there?” The agent shot back. “If there’s kids in there we need to go in there.”
“Whoever is in charge will determine that,” the other officer responded.
According to an earlier account by Arredondo, he and the other officers tried to open the doors to the classrooms, but found them both locked and waited for a master key to arrive. But surveillance footage suggests that they never tried to open the doors, which a top Texas official has confirmed were never actually locked.
One officer has told reporters that within minutes of the police response, there was a Halligan bar, which firefighters use to break down locked doors, on-site, but it was never used.
At a special State Senate committee hearing Monday, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw called the police response an “abject failure” and “antithetical to everything we’ve learned over the last two decades since the Columbine massacre.”
“The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from (entering rooms) 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children,” he said. “The officers have weapons, the children had none.”
We make it a point to not include the names and pictures of those who may have been seeking attention or infamy and will not link out to websites that might contain such information.
Ohio Governor Signs Bill Allowing Teachers to Carry Guns With 24 Hours of Training
“They will have blood on their hands,” Ohio State Senator Theresa Fedor said.
Teachers to Bear Arms
Ohio’s Republican Governor Mike DeWine signed a bill into law Monday allowing teachers and other school staff to carry firearms on campus with a fraction of the training previously required.
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled last year that school employees need to complete 700 hours of training as a peace officer, as well as the permission from their school board before arming themselves, but Monday’s law changes that.
Starting in the fall, school staff will only have to complete up to 24 hours of initial training plus eight hours of requalification training each year.
DeWine directed the Ohio School Safety Center, which must approve any training programs, to order the maximum 24 hours and eight hours.
Four of those hours consist of scenario-based training and 20 more go toward first-aid training and history of school shootings and reunification education.
Individual school districts can still decide not to allow their staff to carry firearms. Last week, Cleveland’s mayor said the city will refuse to arm teachers, and Columbus has signaled it will not change its policy either.
Another Ohio law went into effect Monday allowing adults over the age of 21 to carry a concealed firearm without a permit, training, or background checks. It also ended the requirement for gun carriers to inform police officers if they have a concealed weapon on them unless specifically asked.
Communities shocked by Legislation
Coming just weeks after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 students and two teachers, Monday’s law was not welcome by many Ohioans.
“I think it’s a horrible idea to arm our teachers,” Columbus Police Chief Elaine Bryant told The Columbus Dispatch. “There’s a lot of training that’s involved in that. It’s naïve to believe that is something we can put on them and expect them to respond to from a law enforcement perspective.”
More police, teachers, and gun control advocates expressed opposition to the legislation, with Democratic State Senator Theresa Fedor telling ABC the bill’s supporters “will have blood on their hands.”
“I’m a veteran classroom teacher of 18 years, been a legislator 22 years,” she said. “I have never seen a bill so poorly written, hurdled through the process. There’s so many flaws in the bill. There’s no minimum education standard, no psychological evaluation, no safe storage.”
A teacher identified as “Coach D” also spoke out against the law on YouTube.
“It took me 12 years of grade school, four years of undergrad, and two years of graduate school, not to mention continued education and professional development for years to be able to teach in my classroom,” he said. “I’ve now been doing that for over 20 years. But now, with only 24 hours of training in Ohio, I could be authorized to bring a lethal weapon into the classroom and expected to take on an active shooter, and then what? Go back to teaching word problems?”
At a Monday press conference, reporter Josh Rultenberg confronted DeWine with challenging questions, posting several videos of the exchange in a Twitter thread.
When asked if he would take accountability if this law allowed for a teacher to shoot the wrong kid, Dewine said that “in life we make choices, and we don’t always know what the outcome is going to be.”
“What this legislature has done, I’ve done by signing it, is giving schools an option based on their particular circumstances to make the best decision they can make with the best information they have,” he continued.