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USC Faculty and students rally behind janitor fired after being accused of stealing student's backpack

Faculty and staff rally behind janitor at USC who was accused of stealing a student's backpack and f 02:25

Dozens of professors and faculty members rallied around a 61-year-old janitor at the University of Southern California who they said was falsely accused of stealing a student's backpack, and now they're trying to get her reinstated. 

"We see her as a colleague. If you work with someone for seven years, they are part of your family," USC Associate Professor of Psychology Morteza Dehghani said. 

For more than two decades, Francisca Trigueros had worked as a janitor in the Seely Mudd Building at USC, which home to the university's psychology department. 

"She has been cleaning our offices for all these years, and we have valuables in these offices and all of us trust her," Dehghani said. 

Many in the department were floored when they learned that the 61-year-old janitor was handcuffed, arrested and promptly fired last month. Trigueros was accused of stealing a student's backpack that was stuffed with a sizable amount of cash. 

"To me, it reeks of bias. There's no way that would happen to a white, male professor like myself," USC Associate Professor of Psychology Jonathan Tarbox said. 

According to several professors who work in the building, Trigueros found the backpack in an unlocked classroom. She usually turned lost items in at the main psychology office, but the woman who staffs the office said she was on vacation that week. 

So, Trigueros then took  the backpack to a nearby storage closet. Faculty members told CBSLA that the janitor put the backpack inside and locked the door. 

"She doesn't take it home. She doesn't use the money. The bag sits in the closet," ??? said. 

The following day, the student reported the backpack missing. Campus police alerted the Los Angeles Police Department to security video of Trigueros handling the backpack. 

Trigueros' employer, Aramark who contracts with USC, issued a statement to CBSLA, which read:

"After an investigation involving the police and our HR team, the person in question was found to be in violation of our policies regarding lost and found items and is no longer with the company." 

The logic didn't make sense to Tarbox. 

"So, what they are saying is she should have let a student's backpack get stolen instead of violating policy and get fired? That's crazy." 

Close to 200 faculty members and students have signed an open letter demanding Trigueros get her job back, and they are calling on the university to protect her from what they are calling an unlawful arrest. 

"If people are serving our community and university, and they're not being taken care of and are mistreated by their employer as a vendor of USC, it's USC's responsibility to put pressure on that vendor and say it's not acceptable," Tarbox said. 

A spokesperson for USC provided CBSLA with the following statement:

"Theft reports received by the university are legally required to be turned over to the Los Angeles Police Department in order for the LAPD to investigate matters. As part of this process, the university turns over any relevant evidence, including videotape evidence, which is what occurred here. LAPD made an arrest after conducting its own investigation. The individual referenced was an employee of Aramark. As a result, USC was not involved in decisions relating to her employment. Any questions about this matter should be directed to LAPD." 

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