TAMPA, Fla. (WTSP) -- An arrest warrant for Tampa Bay pastor Rodney Howard-Browne 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.
“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.”
Hillsborough County issued a "safer-at-home" order effective March 27. Under the order, businesses that are considered essential must be able to operate under the CDC's social distancing guidelines, keeping employees and customers six feet away from each other. If they can't do that, they must shut down.
The church's response was to describe itself as an essential service even though houses of worship have not been given that designation.
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.