Tennessee Taxpayers Paid for Interpreter to Fly from North Carolina for Refugee Charged With Child Abuse

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Taxpayers in the state of Tennessee paid to fly an interpreter fluent in an obscure language spoken in Myanmar (Burma) from North Carolina to Nashville to assist in the defense of a refugee from that country charged with four counts of child abuse.

Sawng Hing, now 32, a refugee from Myanmar, pleaded guilty in a Nashville courtroom in 2013 “to a charge of attempted child neglect. She was sentenced to seven years probation.”

Hing’s seven-year-old daughter “showed up at her Nashville elementary school [in 2012] with 17 welts on her body the next day, prompting the police investigation, according to court records. Hing is charged with four counts of aggravated child abuse,” according to the Tennessean.

But on Friday three years after her original guilty plea, her new attorney, Nathan Cate, argued in the court room of Davidson County Criminal Court Judge Steve Dozier “that his client, 32-year-old Sawng Hing, did not understand her rights when she was questioned by police at her daughter’s school in 2012, after the seven-year-old girl showed up with injuries. Hing speaks the rare language of Matu-Chin, some Burmese and little-to-no English, according to court records,” the Tennesseean reports.

“A Nashville judge reopened the case,” the Tennessean notes, last year when “it came to light the interpreter used in court to help Hing — her pastor — was not competent, and Hing was wrongly advised about the consequences of her plea deal on her status as a refugee.”

Now Tennessee taxpayers are paying for her legal defense, including the cost of flying a translator in for the trial.

“Lily Lian, who speaks Matu-Chin, flew in from North Carolina for Friday’s hearing to serve as interpreter,” the Tennessean reports.

“I believe it [the translator’s flight] was paid for by the court-appointed people,” Hing’s attorney, Cate, tells Breitbart News in an exclusive interview.

“It was not privately paid for,” he adds.

Cate would neither confirm or deny that his legal fee is also being paid by Tennessee taxpayers by court appointed authorities.

Breitbart News also asked Holly Johnson, executive director of the Tennessee Office for Refugees (TOR), the Catholic Charities of Tennessee unit and voluntary agency (VOLAG) that operates the refugee resettlement program in Tennessee under the statutorily questionable Wilson Fish alternative program, to confirm when Ms. Hing arrived in Tennessee as a refugee.

“No, I cannot give you the date that she arrived, as that is not public unless she chooses to make it so,” Johnson tells Breitbart News.

Johnson’s answer suggests however, that Hing did arrive in Tennessee through the federal refugee resettlement program.

Johnson also tells Breitbart News that the interpreter’s flight from North Carolina to Tennessee was not paid for by TOR.

“TOR does not pay for court interpreters,” she tells Breitbart News.

Tennessee State Senate Majority Mark Norris (R-Collierville), who championed the joint resolution to sue the federal government on Tenth Amendment grounds for its operation of the refugee resettlement program in the Volunteer State, says the taxpayer expenses associated with this case are but one of many examples why the Tennessee General Assembly will sue the federal government.

“The hidden costs of providing justice to refugees charged with crimes may outweigh the ability of our citizens to pay for it — particularly where, as here, the agency paid to transition such refugees may be profiting despite the transgressions of those for whom they should accept responsibility,” Norris tells Breitbart News.

During an interview with police in 2012, “Hing told the detective she spanked the girl with a clothes hanger because the girl was not at a tutoring class when her mother went there to pick her up. Hing told the detective she found out her daughter had gone to a friend’s house, according to the interview transcript:

Detective: Tell her that I would like to ask her questions about her daughter getting a whipping last night but she does not have to talk to me.

Interpreter: Now he will ask you some questions regarding your daughter getting a whipping last night.

Detective: If she would like to talk to me, uh, I need her permission for me to ask her questions.

Interpreter: If you would like to tell him, if you permit him and want to talk to him he said he wants to ask some questions. Do you want to talk to him? Do you allow him? Allow means do you permit him? He said do you allow him to ask questions.

Hing: Yes. If they want to ask.

Interpreter: Yes, if you ask me I can answer.”

 The Tennesseean reports these additional details:
Prosecutors and the detective who interviewed Hing said Hing was not in custody during the 10 to 15-minute interview.
The brief hearing before Criminal Court Judge Steve Dozier on Friday included testimony from former Metro Nashville Police Department Detective Kenny Stephens, who interviewed Hing and her daughter. Stephens used a school staffer as an interpreter and said he did not know what language Hing nor the interpreter were speaking.
Prosecutor Rachel Sobrero, who works for the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference and is handling the case because local prosecutors were removed, said the interview should not be excluded from trial because there was no improper police conduct. She said Hing was told several times, and acknowledged, her interview was voluntary.
The lawyers disputed whether Hing fully understood what was happening.

Judge Dozier directed Lian, the Tennessee taxpayer funded interpreter “to first review the translation of Hing’s police interview to verify it is accurate.”

That review will apparently be presented in court on September 29, at which time Dozier may rule on the admissibility of the 2012 police interview in the new trial.

The additional expenses of the travel, lodging, and professional compensation of Lian for Matu-chin language translation services will continue to be paid by Tennessee taxpayers throughout the trail.


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