Hours after he was arrested for holding worship services during the coronavirus pandemic in violation of a “safer-at-home” order Monday, leader of River at Tampa Bay Church in Tampa, Florida, pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, said he’s now getting death threats and shots were fired at the church’s sign.
Howard-Browne made the claims during a Facebook Live broadcast where he said the threats were stirred by “religious bigotry and hatred” in the media which forced him to make his Twitter and Instagram accounts private, and he called police to report the shots fired at the church.
“The media are stirring up every kind of religious bigotry and hatred right now. People firing shots last night at the church sign from the highway. We went this morning there was no bullet holes. We did report it but the police say unless you can show where the bullet landed, but I mean the guys, security were there. They could hear the gun going off and then the death threats, to the ministry and to the staff. It’s beyond the pale. So people have basically, literally lost their ever-loving minds,” Howard-Browne said.
It was not immediately clear which sheriff’s office was called to report the attack on his church but an official at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, which announced his arrest Monday, told The Christian Post that they have no record of the alleged gunfire incident at River at Tampa Bay Church.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said Howard-Browne was arrested at his home in Hernando County around 1:30 p.m. Monday for intentionally and repeatedly hosting church services with hundreds of members in attendance, despite knowing he was in violation of orders set in place by President Trump, the Gov. of Florida, the CDC and the Hillsborough County Emergency Policy Group.
The specific second degree misdemeanors Howard-Browne was arrested for are unlawful assembly and violation of public health emergency rules.
His actions were a direct violation of Executive Order 20-05, which went into effect on March 20, limiting gatherings, including faith-based gatherings, to less than 10 people. He was also violating the Safer-At-Home Order, which went into effect on March 27, advising Hillsborough County residents to remain in their homes as much as possible to create greater social distancing and reduce the spread of the new coronavirus, the sheriff’s office said.
Officials explained that on Friday, and again on Sunday, personnel and legal staff from the Sherriff’s Office spoke with attorneys representing the church in an attempt to educate them on the orders in place and the dangerous environment they were creating for their members and the community, but Howard-Browne and his church leaders chose not to comply.
“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,” said Sheriff Chad Chronister. “The River at Tampa Bay has an advantage over most places of worship, because they have access to technology that allows them to live stream their services over the internet and broadcast television for the more than 4,000 members to watch from the safety of their homes.”