The University of California, Berkeley has launched an investigation into the circumstances that led a campus police officer to ticket an unlicensed hot dog vendor Saturday and confiscate $60 from his wallet as evidence.
A brief video of the interaction between the officer and the hot dog vendor, identified only as “Juan,” went viral online and was viewed more than 11 million times. UC Berkeley officials didn’t say much over the weekend as outrage about the incident grew. Monday afternoon, Vice Chancellor Scott Biddy said there will be an investigation into the complaints that have been raised.
Biddy said an investigator will be assigned to look at the “procedural and management issues related to the incident.” He said the officer, identified in the video as Sean Aranas, will remain at work during the probe. A student-launched petition calling for Aranas’s removal has garnered nearly 22,000 signatures. UCPD did not respond to an inquiry about how long Aranas has worked for the law enforcement agency, or what complaints about Aranas it may have looked into in the past.
Biddy said, in the statement, that the university routinely asks officers to monitor illegal vending, as well as illegal ticket sales, outside events “in response to requests from our community.” He continued: “This action has been motivated at least in part by issues of public health, the interests of local small businesses, and even human trafficking.”
According to records reviewed by Berkeleyside, the hot dog vendor in the video was the only one who received an illegal vending ticket Saturday, though UCPD said three other people in the area got warnings. Biddy said, in the statement, he could not comment on any particular case due to the open investigation, but added that “our practice is to issue warnings before giving a citation. In a case such as this, it is typical to collect any suspected illegal funds and enter them into evidence.”
Only one other citation was issued all day, according to online UCPD records, and it was for a vehicle code violation in Albany.
Biddy said the investigation would be completed “in a timely manner,” but gave no specific date.
In the meantime, supporters of “Juan,” and other vendors who have had property taken during law enforcement operations, have raised nearly $47,000 to help with legal fees and other related matters. Some have suggested that money could be used to help the man secure a vending permit.
Given the tensions surrounding the video, including concerns that have been raised about possible disparities in policing experienced by minority communities, and increased fear from immigrant and undocumented workers under President Donald Trump, the university emphasized that the incident will be taken seriously.
“I assure you that the well-being of our community members including those from our marginalized communities of color, is most important to us and that we are deeply committed to building a climate of tolerance, inclusion and diversity, even as we enforce laws and policies,” Biddy wrote. “We are committed to continuing to engage the campus community in order to realize better ways to serve it.”
In the absence of much detail from authorities in recent days, some hypothesized that civil forfeiture rules allowed the officer to confiscate the money to be booked into evidence. According to the statement Monday, “In general, when an officer issues a citation, makes an arrest, or investigates a crime, the officer may seize items as evidence of the proceeds of the crime or violation in question.”
The officer did not confiscate any other items from the vendor, according to the university.
Although the incident took place off-campus, on Piedmont Avenue, it was within the 1-mile radius covered by University of California Police Department and Berkeley Police Department patrols. Biddy said the state education and penal codes give UCPD authority in those areas.
Biddy said it will be up to the Alameda County court system to determine what penalties the vendor may face. No case appears to have been filed against the vendor thus far. Berkeleyside has asked the district attorney’s office for further information.