TAMPA, Fla. — A phony sign language interpreter made it impossible for the deaf community to understand a Florida police news conference on Nov. 28.
Police announced they arrested Howell Donaldson in the Seminole Heights homicides case. The sign language interpreter only signed gibberish.
“She was standing there twisting her hands back and forth. I could tell automatically that interpreters don’t do that,” said Betti Bonni, a certified deaf interpreter.
Derlyn Roberts showed up at Tampa Police that night. Police Chief Brian Dugan spoke about the capture of the serial killer suspect, while Roberts faked sign language.
“Most of the time it just looked like she was signing but not using actual signs,” said USF professor Rachelle Settambrino. “When she was spelling words out, she wasn’t spelling anything at all. They were just gibberish more than anything.”
What made things worse? A mother of one of the victims, Monica Hoffa, was at the presser and needed the interpreter.
“I know the deaf mother of one of the victims’ of the serial killer. She was standing right there and the interpreter was signing in a way that was incomprehensible,” Bonni said.
A spokesperson for TPD said he didn’t do his due diligence. He did not question Roberts when she showed up as an ASL interpreter. The city relies on a pre-paid contractor for interpreters, and police assumed it sent her to them.
“We have so many interpreting agencies and proficient skilled interpreters here, where did this person come from and why did they not vet her appropriately?” Settambrino asked.
Roberts has a past with fraud. She has several fraud arrests on her record. One conviction landed her in prison.
“Really the trust there is destroyed at that point, so who can we rely on,” Settambrino said.
Tampa Police said they had a different interpreter the next morning at another media conference. An employed contractor sent the next interpreter.
A Tampa Police spokesperson said he doesn’t know why Roberts posed as an interpreter. Roberts has not returned a comment.
Police said what she did isn’t a crime. It’s an ethical violation.