Sheriff Chronister – social distancing rules for thee, but not for me, as case against pastor weakens

This past Monday, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister did not adhere to the same social distancing guidelines that the county is ordering its citizens to obey.

The incident is newsworthy because it occurred at a press conference Chronister held to announce the arrest of a local pastor for, in essence, not adhering to those same  CDC social distancing and group gathering orders. The case, which has drawn national attention, now appears to have further weakened considerably. Details below.

Our previous reporting on Chad Chronister:
Chronister’s big bromance event 11 weeks ago with pastor he now arrested
Convicted felon is main money draw at Hillborough Sheriff election fundraiser

Below, Chronister can be seen touching Warren on the shoulder blade while switching off at the podium during the press conference. Neither made any effort to maintain the 6 ft distance between each other recommended during this pandemic.

Today, the county’s top health officials indicated that 6 ft may not be enough.

Left to right: State Attorney Andrew Warren, Sheriff Chad Chronister and
Bishop Thomas Scott of the 34th Street Church of God in Tampa

Florida Dept. of Health Hillsborough Director Douglas Holt, M.D, today said at the Emergency Policy Group meeting that the “important point that….I am concerned about” is that “Covid-19 is clearly demonstrating that it’s much more insidious and contagious transmission prior to illness, or in very mild cases, is clearly documented.”

“There may be some degree of aerosolization, which could be beyond the 6ft range,” Holt added. Holt’s comments suggest that there’s good reason to keep as much distance as you can from others, not just 6 ft. And it’s all the more reason for public officials to lead by example.

Shown on the right is a moment when a HCSO staffer placed some documents on Chronister’s lectern while also not maintaining a 6 ft distance. There were other incidents like this during the press conference.

We asked Chronister several questions, including “although your agency is exempt from the social distancing requirement by the county, what message does it send when you arrest people for failing to practice social distancing when you don’t do it yourself?”

We did not receive a response from Chronister or his chief communications officer (who we spoke to on the phone) by the publication deadline.

The arrest warrant issued for pastor Rodney Howard-Browne charges him with two misdemeanor counts, which appear quite weak. Those counts are (in reverse order):

1/ Violation of F.S. 381.00315(6), which punishes states that “any person who violates any rule adopted” under subsections (1) through (5) of the statute “commits a misdemeanor of the second degree.”

Rodney Howard-Browne

However, the statute deals with powers of the “State Health Officer, upon declaration of a public health emergency” and the “actions that are necessary to protect the public health.” The Florida Department of Health is the State Health Officer, and the statute deals with drug manufacturers, pharmacists, quarantine, vaccines, and other matters.

It is therefore not clear what specific provisions of this statute that Chronister thinks Howard-Browne violated.

2/ Violation of F.S. 870.02 “Unlawful assemblies,” which states that “if three or more persons meet together to commit a breach of the peace, or to do any other unlawful act, each of them shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree.” Who were the other two or more people? And why were they not arrested as well?

Presumably, the “unlawful act” mentioned in 870.02 that Chronister thinks that Howard-Browne committed was violating Hillsborough County’s Administrative Order 20-05. That order, among other things, bans the gathering of “more than 10 people in a single room,” including at churches.

However, had Howard-Browne’s church violated that ban today as opposed to last Sunday, it would not have been a crime.

Ron DeSantis
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis

That’s because Florida Governor Ron DeSantis yesterday nullified the county’s restrictions on church gatherings. De Santis did so with his executive order EO 20-91, and then added EO 20-92 clarifying that EO 20-91 “shall supersede any conflicting official action or order issued by local officials in response to COVID-19.”

In summary, it appears that a weak case just got a lot weaker. No jury will convict a defendant of something that was only ever a “crime” (a misdemeanor at that) for less than two weeks, and not a crime any more. Even as the pandemic worsens.

Chronister is a Republican, Andrew Warren is a Democrat and both are up for re-election this year. Their case against Howard-Browne has turned in to a circus. They may not like the bad publicity they are now getting, but they can draw comfort from showman and circus owner P.T. Barnum who said “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”

All three parties involved having received the media attention they desired, we predict this prosecution will go nowhere.

As always….the Guardian reports and our readers decide. Like our Facebook page to find out when we publish articles.

Leave a Reply