‘Fake’ Sign Language Interpreter Delivers Gibberish at News Conference

December 6, 2017 Updated: December 6, 2017    

A ‘fake’ sign language interpreter has surfaced in Florida at a news conference announcing the capture of an alleged serial killer.

On Nov. 28 Tampa police chief Brian Dugan stood in front of TV cameras and journalists to announce the arrest of a man for four recent murders. Standing next to him was Derlyn Roberts, apparently interpreting the information into American Sign Language (ASL) for deaf viewers.

Except, according to deaf people and sign language experts, she was talking gibberish.

“She sat up there and waved her arms like she was singing Jingle Bells,” Rachelle Settambrino, who is deaf and teaches American Sign Language at the University of South Florida, told the Tampa Bay Times through an interpreter.

Settambrino translated what Roberts appeared to be signing during one clip as she apparently interpreted the words of the chief police:

“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.”

At that point, the police chief had in fact been outlining the timeline of the four shootings and describing how police had received some 5,000 tips before the 24-year-old suspect had been arrested.

Deaf people and interpreters were outraged, complaining that her signs could not be understood, and commenting on the police Facebook post of the video.

A woman accused of signing incomprehensibly tries to interpret a press conference of the Tampa Police Department on Nov. 28. (Screenshot/Tampa Police Dept/Youtube)

Cameo Hunsaker wrote: “The sign language interpreter is completely incomprehensible.”

“Did you guys learn nothing from the legal and PR debacle from Manatee County and Mandela’s funeral? She should be ashamed of herself.”

Florida police have run into the problem of ‘fake’ sign language interpreters before.

In September, as officials announced mandatory evacuation, an “interpreter” in Manatee County signed along in gibberish, making signs that looked like “pizza,” ”monster,” and “bear.”

The state of Florida does not require authorities to use registered interpreters

“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 … did not check her out,” Settambrino said.

Tampa Police Department spokesperson Janelle McGregor said they had not requested an interpreter for a news conference on the 28th, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The department is conducting an internal review to determine “who sent this particular interpreter to the news conference to provide services.”

Roberts just showed up and said she was there to interpret the conference Tampa Police Department spokesman Steve Hegarty said Monday, according to ABC.

He assumed that someone else at the department called the service it uses for interpreters.

“I allowed her to do it. I didn’t ask enough questions,” Hegarty said.

According to the Daily Mail and the Tampa Bay Times 53-year-old Roberts also goes by the name Derlyn Glover, and has a previous felony conviction for fraud for which she served five years.

Some media reports confirm that a woman sharing the same name as the interpreter was convicted of fraud but have yet to verify that they are the same person.

Roberts has so far not responded to the allegations.

One more kindly remark on Facebook from an interpreter encouraged Roberts to get in touch with a mentor and learn professional skills. “And please do not ever do this again. I am sure your heart was in the right place but you did more harm than good.”

In 2013, videos of the sign language interpretation of Nelson Mendela’s funeral went viral after deaf people complained he was not signing anything meaningful and that he did not know South African sign language.

The man insisted that he was a bona fide interpreter but that he had suffered a psychotic episode at the time, which caused him to see angels descending into the stadium.

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