Pastor arrested for violating rules amid virus outbreak

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – A Florida sheriff sought an arrest warrant for the pastor of a megachurch after officials said he held a service with hundreds of people and violated a safer-at-home order put in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister said in a news conference that he’s 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.”

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“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 church leaders about the danger they are putting themselves – and their congregation – in by not maintaining appropriate social distancing, and Howard-Browne went ahead and held the service. The Sheriff’s Office also placed a digital sign on the road near the church driveway that said, “practice social distancing.”