TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Attorneys for a former state health employee whose home was raided earlier this month have filed a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, saying the Dec. 7 execution of a search warrant "was a sham to punish" her for not altering COVID-19 data.
The 19-page lawsuit, filed Sunday in Leon County court, is seeking damages and a jury trial on behalf of Rebekah Jones.
"They entered her home with guns drawn, terrorizing her family," attorneys for Jones said in the lawsuit against the FDLE and Commissioner Rick Swearingen.
The lawsuit alleges that Jones' "termination from the Florida Department of Health after refusing to falsify data generated a great deal of media coverage, much to the dismay of the state."
In the hours after the raid, Jones posted a 31-second video clip on her Twitter account that showed her opening the door as agents made their way inside with their guns drawn. Jones claimed that they pointed a gun at her and her children.
1/— Rebekah Jones, MS, GISP (@GeoRebekah) December 7, 2020
There will be no update today.
At 8:30 am this morning, state police came into my house and took all my hardware and tech.
They were serving a warrant on my computer after DOH filed a complaint.
They pointed a gun in my face. They pointed guns at my kids.. pic.twitter.com/DE2QfOmtPU
Swearingen defended his agents' actions, releasing body camera video that he claimed showed their "extreme patience."
"Agents afforded Ms. Jones ample time to come to the door and resolve this matter in a civil and professional manner," Swearingen said in his statement. "As this video will demonstrate, any risk or danger to Ms. Jones or her family was the result of her actions."
The lawsuit claims Jones "opened the door within 39 seconds of the first time an agent shouting at the door mentioned a search warrant."
However, the FDLE said it took 23 minutes from the time law enforcement arrived until Jones opened the door.
Attorneys for Jones claimed the search warrant "was obtained in bad faith and with no legitimate object or purpose."
"The search warrant was never valid and would never have been signed if a fair presentation of the facts had been given to Judge Joshua Hawkes, who signed the warrant," the lawsuit said.
During a Dec. 11 news conference, DeSantis snapped at a reporter who asked him about the incident, saying it was "not a raid."
"These people did their jobs," DeSantis said. "They've been smeared as the Gestapo for doing their jobs."
The FDLE did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment on the lawsuit.
Swearingen said in a statement Monday that he is "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," Swearingen added.
This story was first reported by Peter Burke at WPTV in West Palm Beach, Florida.