Gibberish?! Phony Sign Language Interpreter Messes Up Serial Killer Press Conference

ABC Action News
ABC Action News

This one's a doozy, folks! It just keeps getting weirder, too. As if the news about the capture of the alleged serial killer/sniper in Tampa wasn’t important enough, the sign language interpreter at the press conference just happens to have a criminal past. And oh yeah – she apparently doesn’t even know sign language!

Derlyn Roberts, 53, — who signed alongside Tampa police officials — outraged the deaf community, who is saying that what she signed is just “gibberish” not even close to American Sign Language.

“She sat up there and waved her arms like she was singing Jingle Bells,” Rachelle Settambrino, who is deaf and teaches ASL at the University of South Florida, told the Tampa Bay Times through an interpreter. “I was disappointed, confused, upset and really want to know why the city of Tampa’s chief of police who is responsible for my safety and the safety of the entire community did not check her out.”

Public records show Roberts was released from state prison last year after being convicted for organized fraud over $50,000 and fraudulent use of personal information. And here’s a twist of irony: The Tampa Police Department was the arresting agency. That would be funny, if it wasn’t so pathetic. #SMH

ABC Action News
Roberts Mug Shot / ABC Action News

Roberts was supposed to communicate to deaf viewers what Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan was saying about Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, who was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of four people in Tampa since October. But she didn’t. Not even close.

Settambrino told the Tampa Bay Times that Roberts delivered confusion, not clarity. For instance, when Dugan said his agency received 5,000 tips about the four murders, Roberts signed something along the lines of: “fifty-one hours ago, zero 12 22 [gibberish] murder three minutes in 14 weeks ago in old [gibberish] four five 55,000 plea 10 arrest murder bush [gibberish] three age 24.” Um… say what?

“She was standing there twisting her hands back and forth. I could tell automatically that interpreters don't do that,” Betti Bonni, a certified deaf interpreter, told ABC Action News. “I know the deaf mother of one of the victims of the serial killer, and she was standing there at the press conference. She was standing right there, and the interpreter was signing in a way that was incomprehensible.”

Tampa Bay News
Derlyn Roberts' Mumbo-Jumbo ASL / Tampa Bay News

But wait – there’s more! Apparently, Roberts wasn’t even hired to translate. She just showed up and did it. Wow.

According to Tampa police spokesman Stephen Hegarty, law enforcement officials did not request an interpreter for the news conference. This lady just showed up. “As we were getting ready to start, I was told that a sign language interpreter was outside,” Hegarty told the Miami Herald. “My reaction was: ‘I didn’t call an interpreter, but great that someone did.’ It appeared that she was very well known in Tampa, but I just didn’t ask enough questions. There was a lot going on but it was my responsibility, so shame on me. We did the public a disservice and I am very sorry.”

No surprise, but Roberts is hiding from reporters and has not commented, either out loud or in sign language.

What do you think – honest mistake on the part of Tampa Police, or gross incompetence? Weigh in here!

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