Online video of a UCPD officer in Berkeley who ticketed a hot dog vendor outside a Cal football game Saturday, and seized $60 from the man’s wallet as evidence, has prompted an outpouring of support for the vendor and a backlash against the officer.
UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof offered a brief statement Sunday evening: “We are aware of the incident. The officer was tasked with enforcing violations related to vending without a permit on campus. UCPD is looking into the matter.”
Los Angeles resident, and UC Berkeley alumnus, Martin Flores posted the video online just before 5:40 p.m. Saturday. He attended the football game that day with his children, according to his posts online. In the video, Flores questions University of California Police Officer Sean Aranas about why he has to take the hot dog vendor’s money. Flores was buying hot dogs from the vendor when police interrupted the transaction, he wrote.
The original video had, as of Monday morning, been viewed 11 million times — and attracted significant attention and comments online. Flores sought out the vendor, who has publicly been identified only as “Juan,” as interest in the story grew along with pledges of support. Flores posted on Facebook shortly before 8 p.m. Sunday that he had found “Juan,” and said they were preparing to be interviewed by Telemundo in San Francisco.
According to online records from UCPD, the vendor was ticketed at Piedmont Avenue and Bancroft Way, across from Memorial Stadium where the football game took place, just after 5:30 p.m. Saturday. The 34-year-old man got a ticket related to vending without a license, which is a violation of the Berkeley Municipal Code. It was the only such citation for the day, which was the first home game of the season. UCPD spokeswoman Sgt. Sabrina Reich said Monday that the $60 was “seized as suspected proceeds of the violation and booked into evidence.” Reich said three other people were detained on suspicion of vending without a license, but they were released with a warning.
Flores, as recorded in his video Saturday, told Aranas he was disappointed in him, and said the officer should not be taking the vendor’s “hard-earned money.”
“That’s not right,” Flores can be heard saying in the video.
“We’ll take it to the judge and the judge can decide whether or not it’s right,” Aranas replies. “He doesn’t have a permit.”
Early Sunday morning, Flores created a GoFundMe page to help with the vendor’s “personal, legal and professional matters.” Flores said all the money raised will go to help “Juan,” and “to cover other vendors who have been robbed of their hard earned living through citations and removal of their carts.” As of Monday morning, more than $33,000 had been raised by nearly 2,300 people.
The fundraiser wasn’t the only online campaign related to the video to gain traction over the weekend. UC Berkeley student Vicky Zamarripa posted a petition online Saturday night to have Aranas removed from his job, as first reported by the Daily Californian. Nearly 11,000 people had signed it as of Monday morning, including about 700 who said they are from Berkeley. The campaign has spread far beyond the city limits due to extensive sharing on social media. According to Zamarripa, Aranas had engaged in a number of troubling interactions with the public prior to Saturday.
Other people, including several who wrote on the Berkeleyside Facebook page, said they have known Aranas for years and consider him to be fair. “I have always seen him acting professionally and I have seen him countless times,” wrote one. Wrote another: “I’ve interacted with this cop several times in the past also; he also struck me as a good guy but definitely a tough guy.”
John Pavliga, who witnessed the interaction by the stadium, took issue with the Flores video, which he described as “very misleading.” He told Berkeleyside on Monday that several minutes of footage, from earlier in the exchange, were not posted: “A female UCPD officer who appeared to be Latina spoke to the vendor for a few minutes in Spanish while the male officer shown in the posted video stood nearby. For whatever reason, Mr. Flores (who had been recording the female officer’s conversation with the vendor) chose not to include that footage, but instead show only this snippet with Officer Aranas.”
He continued: “On his Facebook page, Martin Flores made this out to be some kind of anti-Hispanic act by the UCPD. And that makes no sense. Both of the officers who actively engaged the vendor were Hispanic.” Pavliga noted that several other Hispanic vendors were not ticketed, which to him meant there was no apparent racial animus to the enforcement. “This whole episode looks like it was manufactured to stir up animosity between people. No one is above the law. Not even hot dog vendors favored by Martin Flores.”
Many people have questioned whether Aranas legally was allowed to take the vendor’s money. Berkeleyside has asked the university for additional information. In the meantime, readers have been weighing in.
“Evidently when doing illegal sales on UC Property … the money is confiscated,” wrote one local resident on Facebook. “I know an illegal t shirt vendor and that’s what they do.”
Sunday morning, the Flores video was shared on the “Woke Folks” Facebook page, which helped further spread the word about the incident. The Tennessee-based community organization was launched in June by prominent civil rights activist and writer Shaun King. A Woke Folks moderator wrote that laws related to civil forfeiture allow police officers to confiscate goods in circumstances like these.
“UC Berkeley Police confronted this street vendor for selling hotdogs to football fans. He didn’t have a permit, so it’s understandable that they gave him a ticket. What doesn’t makes sense is this cop (Officer Sean Aranas) flipping through the man’s wallet and taking every dollar he has on him,” wrote the moderator. “How can Aranas get away with this? Civil forfeiture laws give cops the legal authority to rob unlucky people like Juan, who just wanted to work hard and make a living. This legalized thuggery has pretty much always existed in America, but the difference now is that we’re able to film these injustices on the spot.”
Civil forfeiture, which allows law enforcement officers to seize assets from people suspected of crime or illegal activity, has sparked increasing controversy in recent years and a movement is afoot to end it. The ACLU says the process has been widely abused, and that calls for reform have been growing. California Gov. Jerry Brown introduced his own reforms related to the practice last year, and the Berkeley City Council, in December, asked police to share additional information about how the practice is carried out locally.
This story was updated several times after publication to provide additional context. Berkeleyside will continue to follow the story. One of the videos posted Saturday evening by Flores appears below. His Facebook page became private Monday morning and the original posts are not visible to the public any longer.