Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister said in a news conference Monday that he was negotiating with the attorney of pastor Rodney Howard-Browne to turn himself in to authorities in Hernando County, where he lives. Chronister added that the pastor has “an arsenal of weaponry” and “a vast security force.”
“We’re allowing him to turn himself in. If he doesn’t, then we’re going to be forced to be police officers and go get him, and law enforcement is highly trained to handle it appropriately,” the sheriff said.
Chronister said his command staff met with The River at Tampa Bay Church leaders about the danger they are putting themselves – and their congregation – in by not maintaining appropriate social distancing, but Howard-Browne held the services. The Sheriff’s Office also placed a digital sign on the road near the church driveway that said “practice social distancing.”
“Shame on this pastor, their legal staff and the leaders of this staff for forcing us to do our job. That’s not what we wanted to do during a declared state of emergency,” Chronister said. “We are hopeful that this will be a wakeup call.”
The church has said it sanitized the building, and the pastor said on Twitter that the church is an essential business. He also attacked the media for “religious bigotry and hate.”
The county and governor’s orders require gatherings, including those held by faith-based groups, be fewer than 10 people to limit the spread of Covid-19.