USC faculty and students demand investigation, say longtime custodian was wrongly arrested for theft

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Monday, April 11, 2022
USC faculty say longtime custodian was wrongly arrested for theft
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USC faculty and staff are coming to the defense of a longtime custodian, saying she was wrongly arrested for theft and was in fact trying to keep safe a backpack that contained a substantial amount of money.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Colleagues say 61-year-old Francisca Trigueros has worked as a custodian on the USC campus for more than two decades.

"She is wonderful, kind, honest," said Morteza Dehghani, an associate professor of psychology and computer science.

Dehghani is one of nearly 14,000 people -- including more than 150 in USC's psychology department -- who have signed a letter in support of Trigueros.

"There is a general moral outrage in the department for how one of our colleagues has been treated," he said.

According to the letter of support, about a month ago on a Thursday, Trigueros found a backpack containing a substantial amount of money but could not turn it into the main office.

"The lady who manages the front office, she was on vacation," said Dehghani, adding that since Trigueros did not want to leave the backpack unsupervised, she placed it in a closet where she stores cleaning supplies.

Five days later, she was arrested on campus on a Tuesday.

"She doesn't even take the bag out of that closet. She could have easily taken the money out. She could have easily taken the bag out and take it home with her. But no she leaves it there," said Dehghani.

The letter calls on the university to conduct a formal investigation and states USC should help reinstate Trigueros' employment with Aramark, and protect against wrongful on-campus arrests.

USC told Eyewitness News that theft reports they receive are legally required to be turned over to the LAPD.

"As part of this process, the university turns over any relevant evidence including videotape evidence, which is what occurred here," said a statement.

According to the LAPD, surveillance footage captured a crime but they have not elaborated on what is depicted in the video.

"People I feel, they are expressing a question, a big question mark of, 'Was there due process?'" said Chrissa Loukas, the Annenberg media journalist who first reported the story.

Aramark, the contractor that employed Trigueros, told Eyewitness News that after an investigation with police and its HR team, Trigueros was found to be in violation of its policies regarding lost and found items. Aramark did not answer follow-up questions for clarification of what she is accused of that violates its policy and what that policy is.

Meantime, SEIU USWW, the union Trigueros is a member of, says it filed a grievance with Aramark over her dismissal.

A statement read in part, "While we are still in the process of gathering facts, we have serious concerns about the way this investigation has proceeded from the start. We believe that all workers should be afforded dignity, respect and due process and we will continue to stand with Francisca until this is resolved."

Trigueros' attorney is not providing a comment at this time. She is due back in court in July.