Pastor of Tampa Church Jailed violating Stay-at-Home Order
Pastor of Tampa church that held two large Sunday services arrested, and jailed.Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne of The River at Tampa Bay Church was booked into a local jail on Monday on charges of unlawful assembly and violating Hillsborough County’s stay-at-home order. He posted bail 30 minutes later.
Megachurch Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne and the River at Tampa Bay Church had been warned.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office received an anonymous tip that the pastor planned to hold services Sunday in violation of county orders asking residents to stay home and limit gatherings to slow the coronavirus. Sheriff’s officials said they warned church lawyers on Friday and Sunday about the “dangerous environment they were creating for their members and the community.”
But Howard-Browne, the self-proclaimed “Holy Ghost bartender” and COVID-19 conspiracy theorist, ignored those warnings. He held two large services on Sunday, deputies said, and even bused people in to the church at 3738 River International Drive.
The church live-streamed the morning “Main Event” service on its Facebook page, showing congregants shoulder-to-shoulder while the church band played.
That’s why Howard-Browne was arrested Monday on misdemeanor charges of unlawful assembly and violating quarantine orders during a public health emergency, said Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister.
“Because of the reckless disregard of public safety and after repeated requests and warnings, I worked with our state attorney, Andrew Warren, to obtain a warrant for unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules, both of which are second degree misdemeanors,” Chronister said. “Our goal here is not to stop anyone from worshiping, but the safety and well-being of our community must always come first.”
Chronister and Warren held a news conference Monday announcing the charges before the pastor was in custody. That day, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases across Florida surged past 5,700.
Warren then took to the lectern and quoted the Bible.
“I’d remind the good pastor of Mark 12:31, which said there’s no more important commandment than to love thy neighbor as thyself,” Warren said. “Loving your neighbors is protecting them, not jeopardizing their health by exposing them to this deadly virus.”