A Florida megachurch pastor was arrested on Monday after repeatedly flouting warnings by local officials not to hold services during the coronavirus pandemic.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister announced the arrest warrant Monday issued against Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, who led crowded services Sunday at his at The River at Tampa Bay Church, reported WTVT-TV.
“Last night I made the decision to seek an arrest warrant for the pastor of a local church who intentionally and repeatedly chose to disregard the orders set in place by our president, our governor, the CDC, and the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue policy group.” pic.twitter.com/L7L0b9jSjA
— Matthew McClellan FOX 13 (@mcclellantv) March 30, 2020
“His reckless disregard for human life put hundreds of people in his congregation at risk and thousands of residents who may interact with them this week in danger,” Chronister said.
Howard-Browne, an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump, refused to close its doors despite a “safer at home” order issued by the county meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.
“They are trying to beat me up, you know, over having the church operational,” Howard-Browne said on a livestream of Sunday’s services. “But we are not non-essential.”
The pastor was charged with unlawful assembly in violation of public health emergency rules, a second-degree misdemeanor, and State attorney Andrew Warren warned that others could also face charges for disobeying public health orders.
Records show he was was booked into a local jail and released about 40 minutes later after posting $500 bail.
The sheriff estimated 400 to 500 worshipers packed Sunday’s services, and he chastised Howard-Browne for telling his followers that the coronavirus was a hoax.
“I was appalled and also frightened at the fact that those individuals were thinking and believing they were doing the right thing,” Chronister said. “How many people are they going to infect if they have this #COVID19 now that they’re going to spread it back to the community as they return back to where they live?”
Last night’s live web & television broadcast
End of Days: Part 3 https://t.co/YcNM5tVFD8
— Rodney Howard-Browne (@rhowardbrowne) March 30, 2020