A day after deaf advocacy groups criticized a sign language interpreter, saying her signing made no sense during a press conference announcing the arrest of an alleged Tampa serial killer, there’s a new twist.
Derlyn Roberts, 53, — who signed alongside Tampa police officials — has a criminal past. Records show Roberts was released from state prison last year after being convicted in 2012 for organized fraud over $50,000 and fraudulent use of personal information.
More irony? The Tampa Police Department was the arresting agency.
Just who sent Roberts to interpret at the press conference is still a mystery.
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According to Tampa police spokesman Stephen Hegarty, law enforcement officials did not request an interpreter for the news conference, which started around 11 p.m. Nov. 28.
“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.”
Added Hegarty: “We did the public a disservice and I am very sorry.”
The department is investigating.
During the press conference, Roberts was supposed to relay what Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan was saying about Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, who was arrested and charged with four counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of four people in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa since October.
Rachelle Settambrino, a sign language teacher at the University of South Florida, told the Tampa Bay Times 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.”
The killings began on Oct. 9 with the shooting death of Benjamin Mitchell, 22, who was at a bus stop in front of his home. The second victim, Monica Hoffa, 32, was killed on Oct. 11. Her body was found two days later by a city employee in a vacant parking lot near where Mitchell was slain.
On Oct. 19, Anthony Naiboa, a 20-year-old with autism who had just graduated from high school, was found shot to death about 50 feet away from the bus stop where Mitchell died. Ronald Felton, 60, was the fourth victim. He was found Nov. 14.