An incident involving a sign language interpreter signing inaccurately during a recent Tampa Police press conference is leading to calls from the deaf community for local and state governments to take action.

  • Deryln Roberts told Tampa Police she was an interpreter
  • Roberts not certified, has criminal background, list of aliases
  • Roberts unlikely to face charges

When Tampa Police delivered the news about an arrest in the Seminole Heights murders, Deryln Roberts stood by the podium and acted as an interpreter.

Members of the deaf community, however, said what Roberts was signing was little more than gibberish.


"There are some things that she signed accurately, but most of the time it just looked like she was singing, but not using actual signing," said USF American Sign Language Professor Rachelle Settambrino. "When she was spelling words out she wasn't spelling anything at all."

To make matters even more complicated, Roberts has a criminal background and a long list of aliases.

"Where did this person come from and why wasn't she vetted appropriately?" asked certified interpreter Betti Bonni. "It's shocking. She wasn't even checked to see if she was safe. She could have been the serial killer herself. No one knows."

Tampa Police Spokesperson Steve Hegarty said Robert's appearance was a mistake. The department typically contracts out through an outside company, but this time, with the rush of the press conference, Roberts showed up and identified herself as a sign language interpreter.

"She didn't tell me where she was from," Hegarty said. "I wasn't sure where she was from. I didn't ask her anything about her qualifications and I should have done that."

Hegarty apologized for what happened.

While critics believe Roberts acted unethically, police said it's not illegal, and she is unlikely to face any charges.

This comes just a few months after yet another signing mistake that made national headlines. Manatee County officials brought in someone to act as an interpreter during Hurricane Irma, and that person was not qualified either.

In light of these events, those in the deaf community say the mistakes are a black eye for their community, and something needs to be done. They are pushing for legislation to require interpreters to have a license.

"There's no licensure or anything to be an interpreter, and you're talking about something as critical as providing services to the deaf community," said Settambrino.