TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen appeared before the Florida Cabinet Tuesday, eight days after FDLE agents raided the home of Rebekah Jones, an ousted state data scientist who has accused Gov. Ron DeSantis' administration of manipulating figures to mask the true extent of the coronavirus pandemic.
What You Need To Know
- FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen appeared before the Florida Cabinet Tuesday
- After the meeting, he took questions from reporters about the raid on Rebekah Jones's home
- He said FDLE agents never pointed guns at Jones or her family during the raid
Swearingen didn't discuss the raid with DeSantis and the three other statewide elected officials who sit on the Cabinet, but he did offer some pointed remarks in a lengthy availability with Capitol reporters following his appearance.
He took particular exception to Jones' claim that his agents pointed guns at her and her family during their execution of a search warrant.
"I don't take any of these investigations personally, but in light of the allegations being thrown at law enforcement, for her to make those false statements about the way law enforcement officers behaved, I feel like that needs to be addressed," Swearingen said.
The search warrant authorized FDLE to remove Jones' computers as evidence for an investigation stemming from an anonymous message sent over a secure system at the Florida Department of Health. The message encouraged employees to "speak out" against the DeSantis administration's handling of COVID-19 data.
In a tweet following the raid, Jones accused the governor of seeking to silence her criticism of his policies.
"This was DeSantis," she wrote. "He sent the gestapo."
Swearingen disputed Jones' narrative, detailing what he argued was a forensic investigation that began not with a gubernatorial directive but an IP address linked to the anonymous message.
"It wasn't until December 2 that we got that back, that anybody knew that that IP address belonged to Rebekah Jones," he said. "So, if she's implying that somehow she was targeted in this investigation, that's impossible."
But at least one member of the Cabinet is concerned about FDLE's handling of the case. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida's sole statewide elected Democrat, expressed support for an independent probe to determine if the agency's actions have been free from political influence.
"That's a smear campaign that the governor has launched from the mansion from day one, that this has always been his opportunity to try to smear her and do character assassination on this individual," Fried said Tuesday, referring to Jones.