Several University of Southern California (USC) faculty members and students are rallying behind Francisca Trigueros, a 61-year-old janitor on campus who has been accused of stealing a student's backpack.
According to a local news report from CBSLA, USC professors claim such accusations are false and have been working to get Trigueros's job back.
"We see her as a colleague," said Dr. Morteza Dehghani, USC associate professor of psychology. "If you work with someone for seven years, they are part of your family."
Trigueros worked for more than two decades at USC in the Seely Mudd building, which houses the psychology department. Last month, Trigueros was arrested and fired after she was accused of stealing a student's backpack with cash inside.
According to several faculty members, however, Trigueros found the backpack in an unlocked classroom. The person who staffs the nearby psychology office said that she was on vacation, so Trigueros took the backpack to a nearby storage closet for safekeeping. The next day, the student reported the missing backpack, and campus police alerted the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) to security video footage of Trigueros with the backpack.
"To me, it reeks of bias," said Dr. Jonathan Tarbox, USC associate professor of psychology. "There's no way that would happen to a white, male professor like myself."
Almost 200 faculty members and students have signed an open letter calling on USC to reinstate Trigueros.
Trigueros's employer, Aramark, which contracts with USC, issued a statement to CBSLA about the incident: "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."
A USC spokesperson also issued a 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."