Wednesday, December 9, 2020

My wife and I know how data scientist Rebekah Jones must feel after Florida police raided her home with guns drawn in a shocking show of force

Rebekah Jones

How close is America to becoming a police state, where even the most law-abiding citizen can expect --at some point -- to receive a knock on the door from cops with heavy weaponry?

My wife, Carol, and I have a deeply personal response to that question, and I'm not sure either one of us even has a speeding ticket on our record. As has been reported in national and international news outlets, I was beaten inside our Alabama home by deputies, who appeared with no warrant, no explanation for why they were on our property, and no lawful right (per U.S. Supreme Court precedent in Payton v. New York) to enter our basement garage. In essence, I was "arrested for blogging" and spent five months in the Shelby County Jail because of a preliminary injunction, which has been an unlawful prior restraint under more than 200 years of First Amendment law. To make matters even more frighteningly outside the law and to get more specific, I was arrested for "contempt of court" after failing to appear at a court hearing. An attorney named David Gespass visited me in jail, and after reviewing the sealed court file, said he found that no summons had been issued at the time of my arrest. In other words, I spent five months in jail for failing to appear at a hearing for which I was not summoned.

After we lost our house of almost 25 years in Birmingham to a dubious forecclosure and fled like refugees to my home state of Missouri, where deputies again invaded our living space when we failed to abide by an "eviction" for which there was no final court order, as required by law. In that instance, I had an assault rifle pointed at my head, we both were handcuffed while existing peaceably inside an apartment for which our rent had been timely paid. Near the end of the encounter, with both of us outside, a cop slammed Carol to the ground and yanked on her limbs so violently that she sustained a comminuted fracture to her left arm--requiring eight hours of trauma surgery for repair, with her expected to regain, at most, 75 to 80 percent use of her arm.

Those incidents happened in 2013-14 and 2015, but events of this week indicate the police state is getting even more pervasive. That came after a Florida data scientist, who had been fired allegedly for presenting COVID-19 stats that were accurate and displeased Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who was anxious to "reopen the state for business" -- pandemic be damned. From a report at CNN:

Florida police raided the home of a former state coronavirus data scientist on Monday, escalating a feud between the state government and a data expert who has accused officials of trying to cover up the extent of the pandemic.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement executed a search warrant Monday morning at the home of data scientist Rebekah Jones, who was fired by the state Department of Health in May. The agency is investigating whether Jones accessed a state government messaging system without authorization to urge employees to speak out about coronavirus deaths, according to an affidavit by an agent working on the case.
Jones told CNN that she hadn't improperly accessed any state messaging system and that she lost access to her government computer accounts after she was removed from her position. About 10 officers with guns drawn showed up to her Tallahassee home around 8:30 a.m., Jones said. A video taken from a camera in her house, which she posted on social media, showed an officer pointing a gun up a stairwell as Jones told him her two children were upstairs. Jones said that the officer was pointing his gun at her 2-year-old daughter, 11-year-old son and her husband, who she said were in the stairwell, although the video doesn't make that clear.

Jones' alleged offense was so egregious that 10 officers with guns drawn were required to subdue this scofflaw? Or maybe Jones did not even commit an offense? She says she did not access a state messaging system, and I tend to believe her. Regardless, cops seemed determined to make a show of force:

Officers also "pointed a gun six inches from my face" and took all of her computers, her phone and several hard drives and thumb drives, Jones said.
Gretl Plessinger, a spokesperson for the law enforcement department, said that agents knocked on Jones' door and called her "in an attempt to minimize disruption to the family." Jones refused to come to the door for 20 minutes and hung up on the agents, and Jones' family was upstairs when agents did enter the house, Plessinger said. She didn't respond to questions about why the officers drew guns. "At no time were weapons pointed at anyone in the home," Rick Swearingen, the department's commissioner, added in another statement.

What was the genesis of all this?

According to the affidavit by an investigator with the department, an unauthorized individual illegally accessed a state government emergency management system to send a group text message to government officials last month urging them to speak out about the coronavirus crisis. 
"It's time to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead," the message said, according to the affidavit. "You know this is wrong. You don't have to be part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it's too late."
Officials traced the message, which was sent on the afternoon of November 10 to about 1,750 recipients, to an IP address connected to Jones' house, the investigator wrote in the affidavit. Jones told CNN's Chris Cuomo on Monday night that she didn't send the message.
"I'm not a hacker," Jones said. She added that the language in the message that authorities said was sent was "not the way I talk," and contained errors she would not make.
"The number of deaths that the person used wasn't even right," Jones said. "They were actually under by about 430 deaths. I would never round down 430 deaths."
Among the devices taken by officers were flash drives that Jones told CNN contained "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." She said that she accessed those reports legally and some had been sent to her by other people after she left the state government.
Jones said she believed the raid on her home was orchestrated by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who she's publicly accused of mishandling the pandemic.
"This is what happens when you challenge powerful and corrupt people," Jones said. "If he thinks this is going to scare me into silence, he's wrong."


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