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COVID-19 dashboard designer faces sexual cyber harassment charges, DeSantis says

Rebekah Jones. (Leon County Sheriff's Office, 2019)
Rebekah Jones. (Leon County Sheriff's Office, 2019)
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The creator of Florida's COVID-19 dashboard, who was fired, and faces open criminal charges of sexual cyber-harassment and cyberstalking, won words of support from her criminal defense attorney on Thursday.

Attorney Robert Morris, who represents Rebekah Jones in her open case, said in a statement emailed to CBS12 News, "Ms. Jones has a sound academic history. Her prior personal history and challenges should not be mixed with the present circumstance."

Rebekah Jones made headlines this week after telling CBS12 News her removal was "not voluntary" and that she was removed from her position because she was ordered to censor some data, but refused to "manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen."

DeSantis said Tuesday Jones was let go for insubordination and reiterated the stance on Wednesday with Vice President at his side in Orlando.

"She didn't listen to people who are her superiors," DeSantis said. "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."

A police report from Tallahassee Police shows a man claimed to be a victim of revenge porn by Rebekah Jones in June 2019. The man told police he had an injunction against Jones for a year until it recently expired. He said Jones posted a website, which included naked pictures of him, and shared it with his place of employment and family members. Jones pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor stalking charges.

At the time of her arrest, she listed her place of employment as the Florida Department of Health (DOH).

CBS12 News reached out to DOH, and the Governor's Office, asking about Jones' claims she was fired because she refused to alter COVID-19 data. We are waiting on responses.

DeSantis said Jones is not a scientist. He said she had degrees in journalism, communications, and geography. He also said she's not the chief architect of the web portal.

"She was putting data on the portal which the scientists believed didn't believe was valid data," DeSantis said. "So she didn't listen to the people who were her superiors."

Jones has a PhD in Geography from Florida State University, a masters in Geography and Mass Communication from Louisiana State University, and a B.A. from Syracuse in Geography and Journalism, according to a resume posted on FSU's website.

Florida's COVID-19 portal is designed and run through a data mapping software from the company ESRI. An article published in April on ESRI's website praises Jones and says she spearheaded Florida's COVID-19 dashboard.

"She put [her] work on hold and quickly created a COVID-19 dashboard," the company's article says. "She spent the weekend compiling cases data and configuring the dashboard."

DeSantis said the dashboard data is transparent.

"Any insinuation otherwise is just typical partisan narrative trying to be spun," he said.

CBS12 News reached out to Jones via the email she used to contact the station, which matches the one listed in the police report. The email bounced back with an "out of office" reply.

Here is the full statement from Jones' attorney, Robert Morris:

It is unfortunate that Ms. Jones has been thrust into this spotlight. I am certain that appropriate investigation and inquiry from oversight committees and other investigative agencies will reveal what has happened and why it has happened.
Ms. Jones has a sound academic history. Her prior personal history and challenges should not be mixed with the present circumstance. Ms. Jones is working hard to resolve personal and private legal issues that are completely unrelated to her awkward thrust into the national media through no choice of her own.
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