TAMPA, Fla. — An arrest warrant for a Tampa Bay pastor was issued Monday, and the pastor was taken into custody after the sheriff said the church violated a countywide “safer-at-home” order.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said the River at Tampa Bay Church violated the county’s order related to large gatherings and social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic. A live stream from the church on Sunday showed the building packed with worshippers.
When Chronister saw images from a crowded Sunday service at the church posted online, he was furious.
“We received an anonymous tip that Dr. Rodney Howard-Browne refused a request to temporarily stop holding large gatherings at his church,” he said. “And instead, he was encouraging his large congregation to meet at his church.”
Hours later, the sheriff along with Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren, filed a pair of charges against Howard-Browne, including unlawful assembly.
Chronister said it was a “reckless disregard for public safety.”
Chronister said Howard-Browne refused requests to stop gatherings at the church and even encouraged people to meet at the church. Chronister said the pastor “put hundreds of people in his congregation at risk,” and in turn thousands of Tampa Bay residents in danger.
According to the sheriff’s office, Howard-Browne has been booked into the Hernando County Jail. He will be charged with unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules.
Violations of Hillsborough County‘s “safer at home“ order are considered second-degree misdemeanors punishable by up to 60 days in jail and fines of up to $500.
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[Editor’s Note: This article was written by Chelsea Tatham and Eric Glasser . Title changed by P&P, and first published at WTSP
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