On January 12th this year, Hillsborough County sheriff Chad Chronister was featured prominently at a “Law Enforcement Appreciation Day” held at the River at Tampa Bay Church. This megachurch in Hillsborough County is led by the now arrested pastor Rodney Howard-Browne and his wife Adonica.
The church reportedly has 4,000 members, and Howard-Browne was arrested for holding service that allegedly violated government orders on social distancing.
At the January event, which other church communications referred to as “Sheriff’s Appreciation Day,” Rodney Howard-Browne gave Chronister an award in front of a huge and cheering audience.
The two hugged on stage and according to the event announcement, there was “free food for everyone, bounce houses, cotton candy, and face-painting for the kids.”
Chronister also posted this video on his official sheriff Facebook page, which shows Chronister being cheered by a huge audience for 20 seconds before speaking and accepting the award. Chronister said he was “privileged and humbled to be here.” In the description of the video, Chronister describes receiving a “tremendously exuberant welcome during this morning’s worship service at The River Church, thank you Pastors Rodney & Adonica Howard-Browne for your hospitality.”
That was then. Today, Howard-Browne turned himself in response to the issuance of an arrest warrant Chronister had sought from state attorney Andrew Warren the evening before. The charge? Alleged violations of orders promulgated by president Trump, governor DeSantis and the Hillsborough County commission. But does law enforcement have their ducks in a row? So far, it doesn’t look like Chronister does.
At Chronister’s press conference today announcing the arrest warrant (full video), Chronister referred to “executive order 20-05” (video of his claim). However, no such order has been issued by the county.
Complicating matters further: although AO 20-05 claims to be an “order,” it actually says “this Administrator Order shall provide additional directives for Hillsborough County.” The use of the word “directive” creates a problem for the prosecution because Hillsborough County attorney Christine Beck, the county’s top legal officer and whose office wrote the order, is already on the record about what the word “directive” in the order means.
Just last week, Beck said that “the difference between a directive and an order is that a directive is viewed as strongly encouraging compliance, but it would not be enforceable through law enforcement. An order is enforceable.” (video of Beck’s statements).
Beck made the statement during a meeting at which Hillsborough’s “Safer at Home Order” was passed, an order which Chronister also referenced at a reason for the arrest warrant. However, that order specifically exempts “religious personnel” from the order.
Making his case even weaker, Chronister said (video) that the Safer at Home order was “advising Hillsborough County residents to remain at home as much as possible.” Note that “advice” is just that. You don’t have to take it, and not taking it isn’t a prosecutable crime, official-sounding assertions notwithstanding.
During his press conference, Chronister botched individual words and the English language in general. He stumbled repeatedly in delivering his prepared remarks.
State Attorney Andrew Warren only did marginally better (video), accusing Howard-Browne of “hiding behind the First Amendment” and claimed that an “appropriate resolution to the situation” had been achieved by Chronister. Doesn’t “resolution” come in the form of a guilty plea, dropped charges or a verdict?
We asked for a copy of the arrest warrant directly from Andrew Warren via e-mail, but had not received it by the publication deadline.
Chad Chronister and Rodney Howard-Browne enjoyed a political bromance back on January 12th, a mere 11 weeks ago. It was a hugfest cum award ceremony they both received stature and exposure from. Chronister filed for re-election a month later.
The seemingly weak case against Howard-Browne for a “crime” which (FS 252.50) only carries a $500 fine and/or 60 very unlikely days in jail makes one wonder if the political bromance between the two really is over. After all, both are benefiting from the statewide and national name recognition this alleged
dispute crime will bring.
Our readers can rest assured that we will report more on this matter. A lot more.
Our previous reporting on Chad Chronister:
Convicted felon is main money draw at Hillborough Sheriff election fundraiser
As always….the Guardian reports and our readers decide. Like our Facebook page to find out when we publish articles.
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