Rebekah Jones, the woman inaccurately described as an “architect” and “scientist” behind Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard, sparked a political firestorm after claiming she was fired for refusing to manipulate data to “drum up support for the plan to reopen.” However, her accounts, including her claim of starting the dashboard “from scratch,” are falling apart as her patterns of questionable behavior — from getting booked for battery on a police officer in 2016 to facing active criminal charges of cyber stalking and cyber sexual harassment — emerge to the spotlight.
Critics have long scrutinized Gov. Ron DeSantis’s (R) handling of the Chinese coronavirus in Florida. He initially exercised a tailored approach, laying a general groundwork and allowing localities to impose more drastic measures depending on the situations in their specific areas. DeSantis eventually issued a stay-at-home order for the state, but his success has been widely attributed to other decisions, including screening individuals hailing from coronavirus hotspots — installing checkpoints along the Florida-Alabama, Florida-Georgia border, and major Florida airports — and taking swift action to protect residents of nursing homes.
Unlike his blue state counterparts, which directed such facilities to accept coronavirus patients, DeSantis’s administration virtually locked down nursing homes, imposing strict restrictions on those entering the facilities.
As a result, Florida has seen far less cases and fatalities related to the virus despite the Sunshine State’s older, more vulnerable population. Although the current data speaks to the success of DeSantis’s approach, critics saw another opening for criticism after Rebekah Jones, who was widely and inaccurately described as an “architect” of the highly esteemed COVID-19 dashboard, claimed she was removed from her post for refusing to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.”
The Tampa Bay Times reported that officials “had directed her to remove data from public view that showed Floridians reported symptoms of the disease before cases were officially announced” — something Jones apparently viewed as “the wrong call.”
“I understand, appreciate, and even share your concern about all the dramatic changes that have occurred and those that are yet to come,” Jones said in a letter regarding her departure.
“As a word of caution, I would not expect the new team to continue the same level of accessibility and transparency that I made central to the process during the first two months. After all, my commitment to both is largely (arguably entirely) the reason I am no longer managing it,” she added.
Despite her past claims and implications, Jones did not create the dashboard, nor did she analyze the data. The dashboard was created by Esri, a company providing geographic information system software. Additionally, Jones was part of an eight-person team tasked with visualizing the data reported by the 67 Florida counties. Furthermore, Jones has been inaccurately described as a scientist heading the project — another assertion that is false. She holds a PhD in geography, is not an epidemiologist, and was ultimately tasked with mapping the data. A source with knowledge of her removal told Breitbart News that Jones was simply asked to change the way that she was visualizing the data — not manipulate results.
The Tampa Bay Times also alluded to that fact, explaining that the disagreement involved the temporary disappearance of the “EventDate” column, which “showed when people first reported coronavirus symptoms or positive test results”:
For much of the next day, May 5, the column was either missing or empty, with every row listing “None.” Finally, it returned shortly before 8:02 p.m.
Times reporters asked Health Department spokesman Alberto Moscoso that day why the data disappeared. Two days later, he said, “This field continues to be represented on the Department’s COVID-19 Dashboard.”
In other words, public health experts asked Jones to disable the automatic exportation of data so experts could verify the results, according to an email from Department of Health I.T. Director Craig Curry, who cited Dr. Carina Blackmore, director for the Division of Disease Control and Health Protection, in his request to Jones.
“Per Dr. Blackmore, disable the ability to export the data to files from the dashboard immediately. We need to ensure that dates (date fields) in all objects match their counterpart on the PDF line list published,” Curry wrote.
DeSantis spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferré released a statement on Jones’s removal, noting that she was fired for “insubordination” and explaining that, despite the plentiful mischaracterizations and assumptions, Jones was not tasked with analyzing the data. Her duties “were to display data obtained by the Department’s epidemiological staff.”
“The team that created the graphics on the dashboard, which was made up by multiple people, received data that was provided by subject matter experts, including Senior Epidemiologists, Surveillance Epidemiologists, and a Senior Database Analyst,” Ferré stated.
Jones exhibited a repeated course of insubordination during her time with the Department, including her unilateral decisions to modify the Department’s COVID-19 dashboard without input or approval from the epidemiological team or her supervisors. The blatant disrespect for the professionals who were working around the clock to provide the important information for the COVID-19 website was harmful to the team.
Accuracy and transparency are always indispensable, especially during an unprecedented public health emergency such as COVID-19. Having someone disruptive cannot be tolerated during this public pandemic, which led the Department to determine that it was best to terminate her employment.
Jones’s past adds credence to DeSantis’s office claims of insubordination.
During her time as a Louisiana State University (LSU) staff member in 2016, she was booked on “one count of battery on a police officer, one count of remaining after forbidden and two counts of resisting arrest,” according to LSU Police Department spokesperson Lt. Kevin Scott:
Scott said officers arrived at the Sea Grant building when Jones refused to leave at the request of LSU Human Resources. Scott said Jones initiated physical contact against two LSUPD officers while resisting arrest and officers were forced to subdue her.
She also has quite the rap sheet in Florida’s Leon County.
“This woman also has a history, a pretty long track record of some pretty disturbing allegations against her in her personal life,” Real Talk 93.3’s Bobby Mac said on Wednesday’s Real Morning’s show, noting her altercation with a police officer, as well as “multiple restraining orders that have been filed by a former individual in a relationship with her that have been granted.”
He also highlighted a “libel lawsuit that has gone against her as well,” adding, “This is a pattern of, I think, nefarious actions on the behalf of this individual.”
Jones has also faced accusations of stalking, dating violence, and has been “arrested and charged with three felonies including robbery,” court documents indicate.
“She’s not a data scientist. She’s somebody that’s got a degree in journalism, communication, and geography. She is not involved in collating any data,” DeSantis told reporters on Wednesday.
“She does not have the expertise to do that. She is not an epidemiologist. She is not the chief architect of our web portal. That is another false statement,” he continued.
“And what she was doing was she was putting data on the portal, which the scientists didn’t believe was valid data. So she didn’t listen to the people who were her superiors. She had many people above her in the chain of command,” the governor said, drawing attention to the active criminal charges against Jones in the state of Florida:
Come to find out she’s also under active criminal charges in the state of Florida. She’s being charged with cyber stalking and cyber sexual harassment. So I’ve asked the Department of Health to explain to me how someone would be allowed to be charged with that and continue on, because this was many months ago.
WATCH: Gov. DeSantis, with VP Pence at his side in Orlando, talks about the criminal charges against Rebekah Jones, sexual cyber harassment and cyberstaking. https://t.co/08X1RNxG1J pic.twitter.com/3fa2qCSFfo
— WPEC CBS12 News (@CBS12) May 20, 2020
The governor added that he has a “zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment” and added that Jones should have been dismissed “long before.”