Tampa, FL – As Tampa police announced the arrest of a suspected serial killer, a sign language interpreter at the press conference was signing gibberish, according to hearing-impaired people who tuned in to watch the press conference.
Derlyn Roberts was the American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter who was accused of making up signs during the press conference Nov. 28.
“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.
Settambrino said that Roberts signed the following, as police announced the details of the arrest:
“Fifty-one hours ago, zero 12 22 [indecipherable] murder three minutes in 14 weeks ago in old [indecipherable] murder four five 55,000 plea 10 arrest murder bush [indecipherable] three age 24.”
What Police Chief Brian Dugan actually said was that his agency received around 5,000 tips before arresting 24-year-old Howell Donaldson.
“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,” Settambrino told the Tampa Bay Times.
But police were just as confused as the deaf citizens trying to understand Roberts’ signs.
Officials are conducting an internal review because they didn’t request an interpreter for the Nov. 28 news conference, Tampa Police Department Spokeswoman Janelle McGregor told WTVT in a statement.
Authorities are trying to figure out “if someone requested that she attend or exactly who sent her to provide services.”
The police said they got feedback that the interpreter didn’t meet their standards soon after the press conference ended.
This is the second very public ALS fail for Florida public officials in recent months.
In September, officials announced a mandatory evacuation as Hurricane Irma approached Florida.
An interpreter in nearby Manatee County began signing words like “pizza,” ”monster” and “bear,” along with other gibberish, Fox News reported.
Manatee County officials later said they were in a bind and called on a county employee who had an understanding of sign language because he communicated with his deaf brother. However, it was apparent rather quickly that the county employee was in over his head.
The deaf community demanded an apology, and the video of that news conference went viral.
Settambrino said Florida has problems because the state does not require ASL interpreters to be certified through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, a national nonprofit that, according to its website, “seeks to uphold standards, ethics, and professionalism” for that field, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Tampa police secured a new ALS interpreter, with master’s level credentials, for their next press conference.