Sign language interpreter 'makes no sense' in live press conference

'She waved her arms like she was singing jingle bells'

Harriet Agerholm
Tuesday 05 December 2017 15:35
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Sign language interpreter 'makes no sense' in live Tampa Police Department murder case press conference

Deaf people who tuned into a police news conference about the arrest of a suspected serial killer were left baffled by the sign language interpreter.

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

"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."

The force had called the press conference to announce the arrest of Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, on suspicion of killing four people in Tampa's Seminole Heights area.

The 24-year-old has been charged with the seemingly random murders of 22-year-old Benjamin Mitchell, who was shot dead while waiting at a bus stop on 9 October and Monica Hoffa, 32, who was killed two days later.

He is also accused of the murders of Anthony Naiboa, 20, who was killed 19 October after taking the wrong bus home from his new job and 60-year-old Ronald Felton, who was killed on 14 November.

The murders sparked fear in Seminole and police had instructed residents not to walk in the area alone at night.

Mr Donaldson III was arrested after he asked one of his McDonald's co-workers to take care of a bag containing a gun, who then reported him to the police.

During the police press conference to announce the conference, Ms Settambrino said the interpreter signed various incoherent messages.

"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," was one of the things she signed, Ms Settambrino said.

The police chief at the time had been providing a timeline of the shootings and was explaining the police force received 5,000 tips before arresting the 24-year-old.

Steve Hegarty, a spokesman for the police department, said he was not informed the interpreter was coming in advance.

He assumed another department member had requested the service.

"I allowed her to do it, I didn't ask enough questions," he said.

The interpreter has been identified as Derlyn Roberts. Someone with the same name and age reportedly has an extensive criminal record including fraud convictions, although the police have not confirmed whether they are the same person.

It is not the first time an apparently unqualified sign language interpreter has appeared at a Florida news conference. As Hurricane Irma bore down on the state in September, an interpreter in Manatee County made an incoherent translation including the words "monster" and "bear".

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