When city officials arrived at a packed Baltimore church that had repeatedly violated coronavirus rules and ignored their efforts to shut it down, at least one police officer planned to try to disperse the crowd.
But after about half an hour of debate, which played out on body camera footage obtained by The Baltimore Sun, law enforcement decided to stand down and let the service continue on that Wednesday evening in March.
And for two weeks, Greater Grace World Outreach Church in Northeast Baltimore continued to hold services without requiring masks and social distancing before agreeing to follow the city’s guidelines. It was fined a total of $100 because someone removed the health department’s closure sign from a church door.
The body camera footage, and the back-and-forth between the church and the city that followed, highlight the complexities faced by officials attempting to enforce coronavirus rules, especially at places of worship.
When they approached the church that day, health and law enforcement officials were met by an armed security guard clad in a black bulletproof vest emblazoned with the word “Police” in bright yellow letters. As they attempted to enter the building, the guard blocked the doorway.
“I just wanted you to wait for my supervisor,” the church guard said. “Can you folks please wait a second? Do you have a search warrant?”
“We don’t need a search warrant,” a police officer replied. “This is the health department. This is the housing department. They have every right to go into your business. Please step aside.”
Moments later, the church’s chief of operations, Peter Taggart, came outside to confront health officials. They asked him to clear the building.
“I’m not going to do that,” Taggart said. “We’ve got a message going on. We’re worshipping God in there.”