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USC Insiders Demanding Justice For 61-Year-Old Custodian Arrested For Placing Lost Backpack Away For Safekeeping

photo: Yansi Keim/Unsplash

An online petition is circulating in support of 61-year-old Francisca Trigueros, a longtime custodian at USC who many feel was wrongly arrested and fired in March over a suspected theft attempt that sounds much more like a grave misunderstanding.

An open letter from the school's Psychology Department breaks down the incident that lead to Trigueros's arrest on March 10, while asking faculty, students, and staff to sign it in support of a formal investigation on behalf of the maligned woman, as well as her reinstatement.

On that Thursday, Trigueros, an employee of the Aramark Corporation who has worked at USC for 24 years, was doing her job, maintaining floors 4 through 9 at the Seeley G. Mudd building at the university. While cleaning a classroom, she came across a backpack that had been left behind, which happened to have "a substantial amount of money" inside.

Such items are reportedly left with a lost and found in the main department office known as SGM 501, where staff and students go to retrieve them. However, on that day, Trigueros was unable to find anyone to report the bag to and, according to her and the letter, locked it inside of a supply closet for safekeeping.

At least one faculty member, Twyla Ponton, confirms that Trigueros has returned such lost items to  SGM 501in the past. However, on that day, Ponton claims she was on vacation and that "there was no one here to receive it per se."

At some point, the student who lost the backpack full of money filed a report with USC's Department of Public Safety. Then on March 15, LAPD arrested Trigueros on suspicion of felony theft in front of a supervisor from Aramark and a campus DPS officer and drove her to the 77th St. Regional Jail. She nor any staff had been interviewed about the alleged theft at the time.

Meanwhile, the backpack and the money within still remained safely locked inside the supply closet.

Melissa Reyes, a project assistant in the psychology department tells USC Annenberg Media, "It went automatically from ‘Oh, we saw security footage of you taking the backpack.’ But did they see security footage of her trying to return the backpack? Nobody said anything.'"

Trigueros was suspended without pay and later fired. She now faces a July 12 court date and further legal "complications" according to the department's letter, in addition to the loss of her income. Her case is being overseen by the LAPD, not USC's Department of Public Safety.

The letter, which is circulating for signatures to spur an investigation, wants to clarify the following points:

    • Why was Francisca not first asked (by her Aramark supervisors or by DPS) about the missing backpack in question before she was arrested by the LAPD?
    • More broadly, is it possible for any USC employee, contractor, or student to be arrested on campus without first being made aware that they are a person of interest in a case? Could a tenured faculty member, for example, find themselves in a similar position?
    • What role, if any, did DPS or Aramark play in providing evidence to the LAPD to establish probable cause prior to Francisca’s arrest?
    • In general, under what circumstances does DPS refer a case to the LAPD for further investigation? What role do university employees (DPS officers and otherwise) play in assisting with these cases?
    • On what specific grounds was Francisca terminated from her position with Aramark?
    • Is simply being accused of a crime sufficient for termination of a university employee or contractor?

Finally, we firmly believe that USC should make every effort to (1) help reinstate Francisca’s employment in the aftermath of this incident and (2) protect its faculty, staff, students, and contractors from wrongful on-campus arrests. The university’s stated commitment to accountability, open communication, well-being, integrity, excellence, and diversity, equity, and inclusion requires nothing less.

As of yesterday, the letter has been signed by over 200 faculty, staff, and students at USC, as well as gaining over 10,000 additional signatures from both within and outside of the school.

The full letter can be seen here and signatures can be added to the petition right here.

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