The charges against a Tampa pastor who was arrested after holding services despite the local stay-at-home orders have been dropped.
State officials said they dropped the charges against pastor Rodney Howard-Browne because he has complied with social distancing rules on his church campus since his arrest.
“In deciding whether to criminally prosecute violations of stay-at-home orders, compliance is our North Star,” Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said in a statement Friday. “Each case is unique, and each one will be assessed based on the facts and the law. But, in general, if the person who was arrested poses no ongoing threat to public health, then our tendency will be not to prosecute the case beyond the arrest.”
Howard-Browne was initially arrested and charged with unlawful assembly and violation of a public health emergency order after holding large services at his church in defiance of the county’s “safer-at-home” initiative.
“The State Attorney’s Office has recognized that compliance and not criminal punishment is the focus of our emergency health laws,” Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said in a statement Friday night. “Law enforcement’s intervention through arrest has been rare during this health crisis, and while it remains a necessary tool to protect the health and safety of our community, we agree that further criminal sanctions are not necessary in this instance.”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Friday that Florida would move into a Phase 1 reopening on Monday, which means gyms can reopen and restaurants can now be at 50% capacity. The state’s partial reopening began on May 4.
There are more than 44,000 diagnosed cases of COVID-19, with at least 1,917 deaths in Florida.