Tampa Pastor Who Held Packed Sunday Service Arrested

A Tampa, Florida, pastor who defied calls to stop holding packed church services amid the coronavirus pandemic has been arrested by Hillsborough County Sheriff Chard Chronister.

Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne was arrested on charges of unlawful assembly and violation of public health rules after he ignored social distancing orders at The River megachurch located in Tampa Bay, and held a packed service on Sunday.

“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 at a press conference while announcing the charges Monday morning.

Pastor Browne bragged during Sunday's service that River Church would remain open for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak despite orders from Hillsborough County officials who prohibited gatherings of ten or more people.

Sheriff's deputies on Sunday set up an electronic sign outside Brown's church to remind parishioners to practice safe social distancing and stay six feet away from one another.

Browne has previously dismissed concerns about the pandemic, telling his congregation in a previous service that "they'd brought in 13 machines that basically kill every virus in the place, and uh, if somebody walks through the door it's like, it kills everything on them."

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has not issued a statewide 'stay-at-home' order, instead allowing local and county leaders to make the call. At least ten counties in Florida, including Hillsborough County where The River Church is located, have issued stay-at-home orders and asked nonessential businesses to close.

Howard-Browne turned himself into the sheriff Monday afternoon. He was booked on unlawful assembly charges and for violating health and safety rules.

As of Monday afternoon, at least 63 people have passed away from COVID-19 in Florida, with about 5,500 infections in the state reported so far.

To keep up to date on the latest news about the coronavirus and to understand what you need to stay safe and healthy, check out the Coronavirus: Fact vs Fiction podcast from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Photo: Getty Images

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