Brandon Megachurch Pastor who defied stay-at-home order will not be prosecuted
Rodney Howard-Browne won't be prosecuted after violating stay-at-home orders. Image via Instagram.

Rodney Howard-Browne hosted large congregations at the beginning of stay-at-home orders.

Brandon Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne will not be prosecuted, Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren announced Friday.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister and Warren issued a warrant for HowardBrowne’s arrest last month after he hosted a Sunday morning worship service with 300-500 partitioners despite “educational” outreach from the Sheriff’s office urging him not to and cautioning that such a gathering would violate the county’s safer at home order.

He was subsequently arrested and then quickly released on bond.

That arrest, Warren said, is sufficient.

“Hillsborough County’s emergency order treats violations of social distancing as a problem to solve, much more than a person to punish. Pastor Howard-Browne’s arrest accomplished the safer-at-home order’s goal, which is compliance with the law,”  Warren said.

After his arrest, Howard-Browne complied with stay-at-home orders at the state and local level, Warren said.

“In deciding whether to criminally prosecute violations of stay-at-home orders, compliance is our North Star,” Warren said. “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.”

Local governments issued stay-at-home orders throughout the state hoping to persuade citizens to follow recommended social distancing standards and flatten the curve, a tool necessary at the peak of the pandemic to keep hospitals from being overrun.

In Hillsborough, officials said that while the order would be enforced and non-compliant individuals arrested when necessary, the order was intended more for education than enforcement.

Prosecution was a last resort.

Warren said his office will not prosecute most cases like Howard-Browne’s, but will still consider prosecution in egregious cases.

Since taking office, Warren has made arrest diversion a priority in cases that are non-violent and don’t pose a risk to the general public.

That goes for stay-at-home violations where prosecution is not needed to achieve a change in behavior.

Chronister, who has long said his deputies would focus on education, not enforcement, except as a last resort.

“The State Attorney’s Office has recognized that compliance and not criminal punishment is the focus of our emergency health laws,”  Chronister said.

“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,” Sheriff Chronister added, referring to Howard-Browne.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].

One comment

  • David

    May 15, 2020 at 2:56 pm

    Warren and Chronister are two jack booted thugs who deserve to lose their reelection and be prosecuted for denying the First Amendment rights under color of law with a life sentence in prison.

Comments are closed.


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