Florida

Did the interpreter in Tampa serial killer press conference know what she was doing?

Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan speaks at a news conference about the arrest of suspected serial killer Howell Donaldson, with sign language interpreter Derlyn Roberts on his left.
Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan speaks at a news conference about the arrest of suspected serial killer Howell Donaldson, with sign language interpreter Derlyn Roberts on his left. Tampa Police Department

If you aren’t deaf, you likely don’t follow along with sign-language interpreters at news conferences.

You probably assume all is going as planned, and the person hired to relay important news to the hearing impaired is being communicated in the correct fashion.

Well, you know what they say about people who assume.

As authorities in Tampa announced the arrest of a suspected serial killer on Nov. 28, those with hearing issues were duly confused — because interpreter Derlyn Roberts just wasn’t making sense.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Roberts was supposed to relay what Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan was saying about the arrest of Howell Emanuel Donaldson III in the four Seminole Heights shooting deaths, which began in October.

But things didn’t go according to plan.

Rachelle Settambrino, a sign language teacher at the University of South Florida, reported to the paper that when Dugan said his agency received around 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.”

Say what?! Viewers probably would have been better off with closed captioning.

Tampa Police Department spokeswoman Janelle McGregor said they didn’t even request an interpreter for the conference, and are investigating the matter.

It turns out that Roberts also has a criminal record.

#BecauseFlorida.

Settambrino complained that the Sunshine State does not require ASL (American Sign Language) interpreters to be certified through the national nonprofit, the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf.

This isn’t the first time the hearing impaired were thrown into confusion during an important news conference.

An interpreter during Hurricane Irma mangled the English language during a news conference announcing evacuation orders in Manatee County.

Marshall Greene’s main qualification for getting the gig was that he has a deaf brother; the lifeguard was hired because the county was desperate for help.

In December 2013, during a memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg, South Africa, there was another snafu involving an interpreter, who stood beside world leaders, including former Barack Obama.

In this instance, Thamsanqa Jantjie, who gesticulated nonsensically throughout the ceremony and used words like “prawns” and “rocking horse,” was committed to a psychiatric hospital a week later. He was also questioned in a murder case and faced various criminal charges but was found incoherent to stand trial.

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