Criminal Stalking Case Against Fired Florida Health Data Scientist To Drag Into August

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GAINESVILLE – A misdemeanor criminal stalking case against the self-described whistleblower at the center of a politically charged dispute over Florida’s COVID-19 disclosures will continue into August, a circuit judge in Tallahassee ruled Wednesday.

Rebekah Jones, 30, was charged in July 2019 with stalking a former boyfriend – long before the pandemic that catapulted her into headlines and television interviews. Police said she published a 68-page document online discussing private details of her relationship with her former boyfriend, including explicit texts and nude photographs, and shared the link with him.

The two had sex in a classroom in 2017 when Jones was his married professor at Florida State University, the man told police. She was fired from the university after threatening to give a failing grade to his roommate as revenge, he said. Jones said the two had a six-month affair until October 2017, and the man is the father of her daughter born in July 2018.

According to police, Jones wrote in emails to the man, “You’re going to be famous. We’re going to destroy each other. This is never going to end.”

In a teleconference early Wednesday, the judge agreed to a defense motion to set the next hearing in the case for Aug. 26. Jones’ lawyer, Robert Morris of Tallahassee, told the judge in June he was close to an agreement with prosecutors, but it was unclear whether that would result in a guilty plea or charges being dismissed. The assistant state attorney, McLane Edwards, did not return phone messages over two days.

Jones was separately also charged with sexual cyberharassment and cyberstalking in the same incident, but prosecutors dropped those charges weeks later. 

Jones was also previously charged in March 2018 with felony robbery, trespass and contempt of court for violating a domestic violence injunction in cases involving the same ex-boyfriend, but prosecutors also dropped those charges. She was separately accused of kicking the door of the man’s SUV in October 2017, but prosecutors also dropped that case.

Jones was fired as the Florida Health Department’s geographic information systems manager in May after publicly accusing state officials of asking her to wrongly manipulate COVID-19 data, which the government disputed. 

She launched her own dashboard tracking cases in June and has continued to accuse the administration of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, without confirmed evidence, of falsifying data to make Florida – where the number of deaths on Tuesday topped that of any other state – look better. 

For example, in July, Jones said officials had directed her former coworkers to “change the numbers and begin slowly deleting deaths and cases so it looks like Florida is improving next week.” She added: “I’ve independently verified they’ve deleted at least 1,200 cases in the last week.”

When pressed for evidence, she pointed out that the state’s official tally did not include out-of-state residents who died of COVID-19 in Florida – even though the figure is described as “deaths in Florida residents.”

The criminal charges and behavior described in police affidavits have not kept Jones from appearances on CNN, CBS News, MSNBC and other television networks to raise suspicions  about the Florida government’s handling of the pandemic. 

DeSantis, whose handling of the pandemic has increasingly drawn national criticism in recent months, accused a reporter who asked about Jones of “chasing the conspiracy bandwagon.”

Jones could not be reached to discuss the criminal case. Fresh Take Florida – a news service operated by the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications – reached out to her in six phone calls, an email and a message left with her mother. A reporter also called her ex-boyfriend seven times and could not reach him. Jones is active on Twitter, often posting several times a day, but has not recently written about her criminal case.

Democrats in Florida also have seized on Jones’ claims. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said she had asked DeSantis to allow Jones to speak for herself to the Florida Cabinet at its meeting in May. At the meeting, Fried – who is expected to run against DeSantis in 2022 – lectured DeSantis for not responding to her request about Jones and taking months to hold a Cabinet meeting amid the pandemic. The governor responded, “Anybody else?”

In addition to the criminal charges, Jones sued her ex-boyfriend in June 2019 in civil court, accusing him of intentionally inflicting emotional distress, sexual battery, domestic violence, emotional abuse and defamation. She abandoned the lawsuit weeks later.

Jones said the 68 pages she was accused of publishing online were excerpts from a longer, 342-page collection of essays she wrote about her relationship with her ex-boyfriend. Those documents were filed in circuit court as part of her civil lawsuit.

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This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at smatat@freshtakeflorida.com

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