You would think we’ve all gotten used to seeing crazy things caught on camera and posted to social media. But no. It seems every day there’s something more outrageous and jaw-dropping than the day before. The insane video for this week shows law enforcement officers pointing guns at a data scientist’s husband and two small children inside their home.
That’s right – a battery of police officers in bulletproof vests drew their guns at Rebekah Jones’s house on Monday morning while executing a search warrant to seize her electronics.
Jones, a former employee of Florida’s Department of Health, must have been suspected of some pretty bad stuff to necessitate this drastic action, right? Murder? RICO? Robbery?
She has been accused of sending an unauthorized email to the State Emergency Response Team that said, “Speak up before another 17,000 people are dead. You know this is wrong. You don’t have to be a part of this. Be a hero. Speak out before it’s too late.” Jones denies sending the email. But even if there were irrefutable proof that she had, this “investigation” involved a nonviolent “crime” and a nonviolent “suspect.” I put those words in quotes because – come on. This doesn’t seem like a real investigation into a real crime. It seems a lot more like payback (more on that in a moment). Even a high-ranking and lifelong Republican stepped down from his political post because of this “case.”
There was absolutely no reason for agents to be in their riot gear with drawn guns in this situation. If we’ve learned anything this year, we’ve learned that these encounters often do not end well. Law enforcement had to know that there were two small children in the house. There’s no telling what could have happened when parents saw guns pointed at their kids. Thank goodness it didn’t escalate. And hopefully those kids have short memories.
Why did this happen? There’s been a ton of criticism of how Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has handled the pandemic. Jones has been one of the most vocal critics; she has been blowing the whistle on how DeSantis has been minimizing the pandemic’s effects and mischaracterizing the data. DeSantis has made it clear that he is angry about this. Very angry. And so, when agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, DeSantis’s agency, paid Jones a visit this week and raided her house, it sure looked like he was trying to bully her and send a message: Stop messing with me.
It also was a pretty clear message to Jones’s sources of information – DeSantis was going to uncover who was leaking by searching Jones’s phone and computer.
DeSantis acknowledged that he knew about the case before agents went in.
DeSantis should not be using potentially lethal force to go after a political enemy. It undermines the public’s confidence in government and law enforcement. And DeSantis should know that it won’t work. The more he tries to tighten his grip on the flow of information, the more it slips through his fingers.
Almost 200 years ago, English novelist and playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote the play “Cardinal Richelieu.” Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII, discovered a plot to kill him. As a priest, though, he would not do violence. His assistant noted, “But now, at your command are other weapons, my good Lord.” Richelieu quickly agreed with the phrase that we all learned as little kids: “The pen is mightier than the sword.” He continued with a less known line: “Take away the sword; States can be saved without it.”
Jones is trying hard to save the state of Florida while DeSantis, waving his “sword,” is preoccupied with his political foes. Jones understands that today’s pen – social media – is an effective and devastating tool.
NOTE: This post has been updated from the original to clarify that Jones is a data scientist.
David Oscar Markus is criminal defense attorney at Markus/Moss in Miami. He is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School. He tries criminal cases and argues criminal appeals throughout the country. Follow him on Twitter @domarkus.